Friday, February 25, 2011

Pink Slips?

While Congress has been on recess, we've been going through contingency plans regarding a government shut down.  That means no new experiments that longer than a week... arg.

That's pretty much what it comes down to... arg.  Social security workers will continue to cut checks, but NIH will be nearly barren with millions of dollars of experiments going to waste.  What a waste...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Feature: parasitic pearls

Its been a while since I've posted a Friday Feature on larval related news.  Finally, I'm back at home with a break in traveling and the holidays over (though my daughter wishes otherwise)... so its time.

Larvae can develop under many different conditions - in the open ocean (planktonic), brooded within/on a parent, and snuggled in an egg capsule.  These types of development have very different consequences for maternal investment (how much energy the mother spends on reproduction rather than her own metabolism and growth), survival, and dispersal.  Broadcast spawning eggs and sperm into the ocean results in 'wastage' due to the high mortality rates for larvae in the open water.  Brooding and encapsulating the larvae protects the larvae and thus reduces mortality, but this usually comes at an energetic cost and reduces dispersal potential.  Brooding entails parental care during development. Parents often leave egg capsules once laid, reducing the cost of actively caring for them, but there is still a cost associated with making the egg capsules themselves and providing sufficient nutrients to fuel development within the capsules (rather than from feeding in the water column).  There are always trade offs.

Freshwater pearl mussels (not marine, I know, but pretty cool... so we'll go with it) seem to have found way around some of the costs associated with brooding or encapsulation.  Mussel larvae are released into the water but instead of drifting in the streams for months, they attach themselves to fish gills.  The arvae will develop attached to trout or salmon gills until they are old enough to drop off into the gravel where they will spend the rest of their lives. 

A parasitic strategy provides some of the benefits of brooding and of planktonic development.  The fish provide protection for the larvae, but at a lower/no cost to the mussel parent.  Movements of the fish will contribute to larval dispersal, but will prevent being washed away to inhospitable locations. 

Despite this ingenious strategy for larval development, the freshwater pearl mussel is endangered.  Overfishing of the mussel to obtain freshwater pearls and river pollution have drastically diminished it abundance and distribution.  Fishing of the fish hosts also poses a threat.

Breeding programs are finally becoming successful.  The complex life cycle posed challenges, but it appears that there may be new hope for restocking freshwater pearl mussels and preventing their extinction.

BBC news: Freshwater pearl mussels breeding in Northumberland

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tick tock

Another intriguing piece of advice that I received recently - follow the time line.  Assuming that you do secure that illusive assistant professor position, how do you achieve the next illusive position - tenure?  Follow the time line.  With 6 to max 8 years on the tenure clock, its not graduate students who will get you tenure.  It takes 6 years to complete a program these days, so even you can attract a top notch graduate student in your first year, they'll just be getting their best stuff out in your last year before or just after your tenure clock goes off. Postdocs are good but expensive and difficult to attract as a young, unproven assistant professor.  Undergraduates are well great to train but aren't likely to generate cutting edge work that will get you to the next step.  So who or what will get you that tenure? .... something to think about....

Friday, February 4, 2011


I'd like to share some advice that I got today that I really like.  There is one key thing you must master at each stage of your career to really make it.

Undergraduate School -- hardwork
Graduate School -- creativity
Postdoctoral Fellowship -- marketing
Assistant Professor -- organization

I think I made it out of the first two quite successfully.  I'm still working on marketing myself though.  I think self-marketing is one of those activities that has a gender bias.  Males seem to be much better at this than females.  I'm trying though.  My mini-tour was really for self-promotion, networking, initiating possible collaborations, and getting feedback on my work.  I really do enjoy giving talks and talking to people, so it was also fun. I got to interact with some brilliant people and talk science.  When it comes down to it -- it was marketing. Maybe I will get it right in the end...