Scalidophora was in BRAZIL this year! It was my first time in the southern hemisphere, but there were kinorhynchs waiting to greet me! I delivered a talk on a transcriptome from a single individual, and had the pleasure of learning more morphology and sampling from the best in the world.
The highlight of the conference was being reunited with my two kinorhynch mentors. Peter Funch (left of me) was my professor at Friday Harbor Labs and introduced me to my very first kinorhynch almost two years ago. Martin Sorensen (right of me) taught me everything I know about kinorhynch morphology, and encouraged me to pursue these amazing little animals further. Working on completing this manuscript with both of them is a great feeling- look out for a new species coming (hopefully!) late this summer.
I wrote many pages, answered many questions, and drew many diagrams, but I can now say that I am a PhD candidate. I don't have a cute picture to go with this, so here's a cool set of chiton valves instead. I used this set as a fidgeting tool as I studied- nothing like a chiton jigsaw puzzle to give your hands something to do!
More good research news! The Conchologists of America funded my research proposal! This funding will allow me to do much more in depth comparisons of transcription within the radula. By dividing the teeth up into four "phases" of iron deposition, we will be able to ask exactly what is happening as the teeth develop.
I just got back from the Florida Keys, and now have 40 samples in the freezer, ready for RNA extraction and sequencing. Very excited to move this project forward!
The University of Alabama has a special connection to EO Wilson, as he got his bachelor's and master's degrees here. In fact, there is still a sketch of an ant he drew on the wall in my building.
In his honor, each summer the UA Biology Department grants three students with fellowships to assist them in summer field work. I'm delighted to say that I was awarded one of these fellowships, along with fellow graduate students Sergei Bombin and Phoenix Rogers! Sergei is a budding phycologist (... can a phycologist be "budding?"), while Phoenix works on aquatic insects.
I'll be using my fellowship for expenses related to our summer field work. Congrats to all three of us!
I just got back from about three weeks in Florida, two weeks of which were spent at Fort Pierce's Smithsonian Marine Station and in the Florida Keys. The marine lab was a wonderful place to be, full of welcoming scientists who were admirably tolerant of our team's buckets and buckets (and buckets!) of sand samples.
We were looking specifically for nematodes with our collaborator Ashleigh Smythe. I learned so much about a group that I had previously overlooked, and even attempted to key a couple out. If you've never tried to key out a nematode, make sure you have a brilliant nematologist with you to make it fun instead of impossible. I even now have a favorite group, the Stilbonematidae, which have an incredible ability to "farm" bacteria on their own bodies for food! They are, and I use this word quite seriously despite the fact that I'm describing a nematode, BEAUTIFUL. Definitely look up some SEM images - they look like an intricate braid.
We also SCUBA dived for sand samples in the Florida Keys, and of course collected chitons! I also got to hold a sea hare, find kinorhynchs and gnathostomulids, meet some microscopic sipunculids, and saw my first pycnogonid (sea spider). What a trip!