Behind the scenes - 2014
Bill Ussler, a senior research specialist at MBARI, is investigating techniques for cultivating bacteria in the deep sea. Attempts to cultivate deep-sea bacteria in the laboratory have generally failed because most the bacteria do not survive the transit to the surface and it is difficult to create incubation systems that mimic the deep sea. Bill designed an in situ microbial incubation system to circumvent these problems. Gas permeable bags are hung on a fiberglass frame (shown here on the deck of the R/V Rachel Carson). Six months ago, the frame was sent down to the seafloor where the ROV Ventana filled the bags with seawater. Bill added nitrate to the water in the incubation frame’s bags, in hopes of stimulating growth of bacteria that use nitrate as an energy source. Because it is thought that deep-sea bacteria are slow-growing, this frame was left on the seafloor for half a year. This experiment is located near MBARI’s MARS cabled observatory in Monterey Bay. Bill plans to connect future incubation systems to the MARS cable so he can manipulate and monitor the experiment remotely in real time.
Image: Three weeks ago, Bill Ussler recovered the microbial incubation system from the seafloor near MBARI's MARS cabled observatory.
—February 24, 2014
Comb jellies were included in Science News’ list of top genomes of 2013. Last year, MBARI Scientist Steven Haddock was an author on a paper that highlighted these fascinating and wondrous creatures. In this study, researchers compared the genomes of organisms, including that of Mnemiopsis leidyi, a comb jelly native to the coastal waters of the western Atlantic Ocean. They found striking evidence that comb jellies rather than sponges are the sister lineage to all other animals. This is fascinating news to biologists since comb jellies possess muscle and nerve cells while sponges do not. These findings prompt a new way of thinking about animal evolution. A Science News article provides more detailed information about this study.
Image: After sequencing the genome of Mnemiopsis leidyi, researchers in this study compared its genomic data to other ctenophore species including this comb jelly, Bathyctena chuni.
—February 14, 2014
Students from Pajaro Valley High School participate in Monterey Bay Aquarium’s WATCH (Watsonville Area Teens Conserving Habitat) program. They conduct field experiments alongside scientists on environmental research projects they designed themselves. In a video by Eco Company, the students are at Elkhorn Slough to observe yellow shore crabs that they’ve collected in plastic and metal traps. They also conduct water-quality testing to check pH, dissolved oxygen, and salinity levels. MBARI researchers Chris Lovera, Linda Kuhnz, and George Matsumoto are among the researchers who work with the students. In the video, Lovera says, “They work hard to come up with a question that inspires them, that challenges them. It’s a very goal-oriented process and that’s really a life lesson—setting goals and achieving them.”
Image: Chris Lovera, left, and a student check a plastic trap that was placed underwater to collect specimens in the Slough.
—February 5, 2014
Seven MBARI geologists and biologists spent the day at nearby Moss Landing Marine Laboratories learning how to use a sophisticated instrument called a scanning electron microscope (SEM, top image). Unlike traditional microscopes that produce images using light, SEMs focus a beam of electrons on a sample. The electrons interact with the object to generate an image onto a connected computer screen. The image unveils information about the sample’s morphology and chemical composition. This information can be used to determine the composition of rocks or sediment or identify the species of an animal.
The bottom picture shows a practice image that reveals a tiny structure (25 microns) made of calcium carbonate from the body wall of a deep-sea animal called a holothurian, or sea cucumber.
—January 29, 2014
The R/V Western Flyer, MBARI’s larger research vessel, has started the new year at a shipyard in northern California for maintenance. Among other repairs, the ship’s thruster motors require service and the motors’ housings need to be replaced. In order to easily remove the motors and their housings, the shipyard crew cut large access hatches in the underwater pontoons (see photo). Andrew McKee, the Flyer’s master, said that work is going well and progressing rapidly. The ship is set to return to Moss Landing in February.
Image: The Western Flyer was hauled out to dry dock at Bay Ship and Yacht in Alameda, California, for maintenance. In the bottom image, you can see one of the access hatches that were cut in the ship’s hulls to remove the thruster motors and their housings.
—January 17, 2014
Sea butterflies in Monterey Bay
Stephanie Bush, a postdoctoral fellow at MBARI, is studying the biodiversity of pteropods, also known as sea butterflies because they have wing-shaped membranes located on each side of their heads. The sea butterfly Corolla spectabilis can sometimes be found in large aggregations in Monterey Bay. The Monterey Abalone Company farms its product in barrels hanging below the Monterey Municipal Wharf, where it has collected pteropods swimming alongside the abalone for Stephanie. She will extract the pteropod DNA and compare it to that of others she has previously collected. Read more about Stephanie’s work with pteropods in our expedition logbook.
Image: Stephanie Bush uses a long pole with a cup attached to collect sea butterflies in the waters below the Monterey Municipal Wharf.
—January 13, 2014