Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year, New Vents

Exploration of new vent regions has yielded more exciting observations - especially in the Indian Ocean and along the Mid-Cayman Rise (see map). New species have been discovered on the SW Indian Ridge, including potentially new Yetti crabs (see Deep Sea News's coverage, and a step behind, BBC's story).

New species and a new cross roads has been discovered only this summer on the Mid-Cayman Rise. The deepest deep-sea vents made headlines last year and are set to make new headlines during the upcoming cruise, OASES - setting out at the dawn of the new year (Jan 6th). This summer, remotely operated vehicles, Institute for Exploration’s (IFE) Little Hercules ROV and NOAA’s Seirios camera sled, spotted an unusual sight - tubeworms and swarms of shrimp co-inhabiting. Shrimp swarming on vent chimneys are usually restricted to vents along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and in the Indian Ocean; whereas clumps of brilliant tubeworms are usually restricted to vents in the Pacific Ocean. How these two ended up together is a mystery of plate movements, dispersal and evolution. The OASES expedition will start to provide some clues as they collect samples and explore the newly-discovered vents more closely. You can join them on the cruise to enjoy the discoveries in near-real time through their blog.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A happy holidays for the lab

Its been a busy time in the lab with everyone putting papers across the boss's desk. But the results so far are pretty good. My paper just came out in Nature Communications and a manuscript by three members of the lab and an undergraduate intern was just accepted by Science!  Congrats!! Hopefully, the remaining manuscripts fair as well in the new year.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays

Wishing you and yours all the best this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Just out

NPG Press release:

Co-opting behavioural responses for development

Dopamine signaling prevents elongation of the feeding structure in sea urchin larvae, when food is abundant, reports a study published in Nature Communications this week. These findings suggest that sea urchin larvae may have appointed a pathway normally used for behavioural responses to instead alter their development.

Food or prey can act as a powerful stimulus to elicit metabolic, behavioural and developmental responses in organisms. Like many other prey-induced responses, the sea urchin larval response has been characterized as an offensive response, to increase food acquisition of the predator. Diane Adams and colleagues show that the food-induced dopamine signaling suppresses the developmental 'default' program operating in pre-feeding larvae to produce shorter feeding structures with lower food acquisition potential. The authors demonstrate that when food is abundant, sea urchin larvae protrude a shorter feeding arm and trade-off maximum food acquisition potential in order to conserve maternal resources and thus maximize fitness.

Nature Communications Featured Image 12/20
These findings suggest that dopamine signalling can be manipulated in order to rapidly alter development in response to food availability.


Rapid adaptation to food availability by a dopamine-mediated morphogenetic response

Diane K. Adams, Mary A. Sewell, Robert C. Angerer, Lynne M. Angerer
Published online: 20 December 2011 | doi 10.1038/ncomms1603
Abstract | Full text | PDF

Debris field

Its amazing and a bit sad how disasters spurs scientific innovation and opportunity. The introduction of 14C into the oceans by nuclear testing and attacks provided a marker to follow ocean overturning and circulation patterns. Large response teams, including scientists, were mobilized after the Deep Horizon blowout. The influx of funding has improved research efforts and our understanding of the Gulf Coast ecosystem from the shoreline to the deep sea.

NOAA has run OSCURS (Ocean Surface Current Simulator), a numeric model for ocean surface currents, to predict the movement of marine debris generated by the Japan tsunami over five years. The results are shown here. Year 1 = red; Year 2 = orange; Year 3 = yellow; Year 4 = light blue; Year 5 = violet.  The OCSURS model is used to measure the movement of surface currents over time, as well as the movement of what is in or on the water. Map courtesy of J. Churnside (NOAA OAR) and created through Google.
The opportunities from the devastating Japan earthquake and tsunami have been less publicized in the US (since it was not a national affair and had less commercial and political drama). Still, scientific resources have been mobilized here as well. While the goals have largely been to track the debris field and assess the radiation risk to humans and marine life, the work is also providing information and tools to help understand dispersal (how selfish of me). Debris tracks (click to see animated projections) are in many ways equivalent to, and thus can inform, dispersal trajectories.

More locally in Japan, the radiation spike introduced rare isotopes that will be taken up into biological material, including the shells and/or tissues of larvae. The concentration of the isotopes combined with an age estimate (possible for fish) of larvae collected at settlement or just after settlement would facilitate generating population matricies - the isotope concentration provides information about the home location and collection site is the final settlement site. Using isotopes and other geochemical tags is already being applied to population connectivity studies. However, the limiting factor is often geographic variation in isotopes. The radiation leak, while horrible, introduced an anthropogenic gradient in rare isotopes with variable half lives. Its an interesting opportunity... I hope someone is doing it!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Deep Sea News

Besides lacking a hyphen between deep and sea (can you tell that I've been nailed a few times for doing this myself), Deep Sea News is quickly becoming one of my favorite science blogs. It is probably no surprise given a nearly life-long fascination with strange marine life including that at deep-sea hydrothermal vents and a sincere appreciation for the mission and driving forces of the blog.

... I have always wanted DSN [Deep Sea News] to do that for our readers, that sense of awe, passion, novelty, and most of all participation in exploration.On the rollercoaster that is being a burgeoning professional academic, DSN is my daily reminder of why I do this. I enjoy the part of the day I set down at my computers and share with the readers the wonderment that is the environment that I have dedicated my life to. The readers reaffirm how blessed we are to be in this field–Craig McClain, Deep Sea News, editor-in-chief  full excerpt

This makes me reconsider my motivation and goals for this blog... and, more importantly for you, to share one of my favorite videos posted by Deep Sea News - a National Geographic clip Bioluminescence on Camera. The exceptional images remind me of the amazing things that life can do and of late nights in high school spent at the beach with good friends watching breaking waves fluoresce.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Many hats

The business of science is an interesting one. A professor/scientist must be many things at once - a researcher, a teacher, a counselor, a storyteller, a writer, an orator, and even a publicist...not to mention life outside of work. I'm sure there are many more roles as well. I guess that's partly why I love doing science and why its so difficult. Its a constant juggling act, but it never gets boring.

This week, I've spent a chunk of time collecting images - not for a figure - but for cover spreads and media packets for three different manuscripts in press. Preparing media packets is especially interesting. There's a good deal of effort for a story that may or may not be picked up by the press. If you'd like a taste of the buffet of press releases each day, check out EurekAlert! Press interest always a mystery. I mean, how did deep-reaching eddies get into the Economist? I'm not complaining, but I would never have predicted the outcome. We'll see if anyone in the media is interested in my latest story about little sea urchin larvae due out next week.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

IVF for marine larvae

There are a lot of sperm and embryos frozen in the DC metro area. Every morning on my drive into work, I hear an ad for one of the many local institutes that combat infertility to help couples "realize their dream of having a baby". It is also becoming popular (and somewhat controversial) for our soldiers to store sperm before deploying to war zones.

The National Zoo has another set of repositories for sperm and embryos, to instead combat declining biodiversity. One of their repositories specifically targets corals from the Great Barrier Reef. The idea is that embryos could be thawed, reared in the lab and then transferred onto the reef to add genetic diversity, help boost potentially dwindling numbers, or even reintroduce an extinct species. Similarly, sperm could be thawed to fertilize fresh eggs adding potentially extinct genotypes back into the wild population.

In theory, this sounds like a great insurance policy. However, this isn't just a seed bank for crops that humans have developed and selected for over thousands of years that will be sewn into a controlled field. We're talking about wild populations with some complex symbioses. Will evolving populations and a changing climate make the stored genotypes inferior?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


My bag seems to be packed just in time for my kids to get home and attack. I'm off to an interview this evening. I'm super excited that all traces of laryngitis are finally gone... two weeks later. Two days of talking could have been harsh. The gash on my face (courtesy of my son excitedly pointing out my nose) is also almost healed. I have been having nightmares about going into the interview looking like a mute pirate. I wonder what I'll dream about tonight instead.

Wish me luck.