PUPCYCLE Day 11 – Heavy Seas, Anyone?

Monday, June 03, 2019 – Transiting through a low-pressure center along the northern California coast

PUPCYCLE Log: Day 11 – Heavy Seas, Anyone?

The R/V Oceanus rock and roll concert returned shortly after dinner as the captain charted our course northward to Newport, Oregon. Our hopes that the low-pressure center awaiting our return might have moved beyond our course were soon dashed as the pitch and roll of our research vessel increased in relation to our proximity to Cape Mendocino. While being rocked a bit too vigorously in my bunk, I began thinking of gene expression and how the genes being expressed by these tiny single-celled organisms provide the understanding for cellular responses

Figure 22 – Emily Pierce (UNC-CH) demonstrates how the FlowCAM® captures images of single cells. [Image credit: Miriam Sutton]
to the environment. My pondering led me to generate a new research question: What might the transcriptomics of some of the researchers’ cells reveal if the scientists sequenced their own RNA prior to boarding the R/V Oceanus and compared them throughout the 2-week cruise? There are certainly different genes being expressed by the crew of the R/V Oceanus. The expression of the crew’s “sea leg” genes is far more adapted than most of the scientists who boarded the vessel 10-days ago. There is one notable exception among the scientists: Emily Pierce (UNC-CH), who is also the youngest researcher on PUPCYCLE 2019. This is Emily’s first experience on a research vessel and when I spoke with her during the first R/V Oceanus rock and roll concert less than a day out of port, she beamed and said, “I like this!” For Emily, the genes being expressed were more akin to euphoria than to the nausea responses endured by most of the scientists.

Emily is a rising senior at UNC-CH and is working with Chief Scientist, Adrian Marchetti’s group while onboard. Emily spends many hours pipetting water samples into the FlowCAM® that captures images of individual species of phytoplankton. The images are saved to the computer for additional analysis and species sorting back in the lab. Once completed, Emily will have the relative abundance of each genus (Diatoms, Dinoflagellates, Haptophytes, and Chlorophytes) and species identified throughout the research area. Emily is also filtering and storing samples for chlorophyll analysis, as well as nutrient and toxin analyses. The commonality in her research protocol matches the other scientists’ protocols with comparisons across broad vs. narrow shelf regions and deep water (90 m) vs. surface water (15m).

Figure 23 – The FlowCAM® captures images of large chain-forming diatoms as well as other phytoplankton. [Image credit: Screenshot of FlowCAM® by Miriam Sutton]
Luckily for the other scientists still struggling with their own gene expression, today’s schedule is quite light as they prepare for tomorrow’s 48-hour filtration from Incubation Site #2: Narrow shelf samples. Data from the second incubation site will assist the scientists in answering many of their research questions, including: Are certain species of diatoms better adapted in narrow shelf/iron-limited environments? Do diatoms at the surface express different genes during upwelling than do diatoms found in deep water? While the scientists ponder these scientific questions, I continue to ponder whether my own RNA will adapt in a way that the euphoric gene expression I experience in the marshes back in Beaufort, NC will be transcribed to replace the nauseous gene expression I experience during each R/V Oceanus rock and roll concert.

Emily Pierce is from Durham, North Carolina and a rising senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is pursuing a major in Environmental Science with a minor in Marine Science and plans to attend graduate school after completing her undergraduate studies.

Today’s Certificate Challenge: Name the four different groups of phytoplankton being investigated during PUPCYCLE 2019.