Gon’ Crabbin’

Three weeks in Friday Harbor, and the time has flown by. As you may have already known both Steve and I are working on the organism Oregonia gracilis, a decorator crab. Steve is working with the larval and beginning juvenile stages. These early stages are teeny tiny little guys. About two weeks ago he needed to start collecting some of the larvae and we both just wanted to have some fun, so we decided to start the collection process. Now I don’t know about you, but from growing up just outside of Annapolis, MD when I think about catching crabs what comes to mind is tying some chicken necks to a string, throwing them in the water and waiting for a crab to grab on. Contrary to popular belief this isn’t how you catch larvae.


There are a couple different methods you can choose from to catch these larvae, but basically all of them involve seeing these tiny specks swimming around in the water and scooping them up into a plankton tow or small mesh net. However, in order to see and scoop these crabs you first have to find them. This part can be pretty tricky when you’re dealing with something that is only about a millimeter or so long in a great big sea. Luckily Biologists have a trick up their sleeve, Nightlighting.


Nightlighting is exactly what it sounds like. Once it gets dark (about 10:30 here) you take a nice big waterproof lamp and dip in just below the surface of the water. In a matter of minutes you’ll have larvae swarming the light, give it another minute or so, you’ll have shrimp, jellyfish, small fish, and every-once-in-awhile 1 ½ ft polychaetes swim by. The larvae are attracted to the light, and a lot of the other organisms are just there for some easy dinner.

With enough luck nightlighting is a very effective method for catching larvae. We have been out about 4 times since we’ve been here, and every time we manage to see something cool and new. Also after some very cold time dipping our hands in the water we took a few nice pictures.


Gotta go check on the crabs! Until next time from the West Side.

Plaid, Flannel, or Argyle? Decisions, decisions…

Hey guys, I’m Joe Odierno, here at Friday Harbor Labs with Dr. Jacobs, Deanna, and Steve. This is our 3rd week here in the San Juan Islands and each day is filled with new and different surprises. From getting to go out dredging, to starting experiments we have all been anticipating for months, to seeing all the awesome organisms this place has to offer, it’s really a sight to see.


Between the whale watching, seal sightings, and adventure hikes, we all work hard and long on our research in the labs and field. I’m here studying Oregonia gracilis, The Graceful Decorator. These crabs are apart of the Spider Crab family and will take anything they can get their claws on and use it to decorate they carapace and legs. They mostly utilize varieties of algae, bryozoans, and sponges. It has been seen that other crabs in their order will prefer to decorate with one material more than another. I’m looking at the question, do these crabs prefer one material to another, or do they just take whatever is within claw length? I want to see if these guys go to their favorite department store and pick out their favorite shirt, or if they just go for the first one they see.


So the general process of my experiment is go out to the docks, swoop 30 to 40 of these guys into my net, bring them back to the lab, strip them down (un-decorate them)-which I must say is a pretty arduous process that usually goes long into the night- using my arsenal of watchmaker’s forceps, paintbrushes, forceps, and a handy dandy dissecting microscope, give them sometime to recover, and the next day unleash a fury of red algae, sponges, and bugula on them.  After about three days of decorating I re-strip the crabs, dry the used materials, and weigh them. I actually began my first real round the beginning of this week, so I’m stuck in this excited, edge-of-my-seat, come on guys decorate decorate decorate, type of state. Which I must say isn’t a bad thing.


Well we gotta go catch a boat, so that’s all for now from the West Side.  Until next time.


Joe Odierno


Late Nights in the Lab

Eat breakfast, go to lab; eat lunch, go to lab, eat dinner, go back to lab. You see the pattern? Going out to the field, late hours in the lab, getting my experiment ready, getting pumped for whale watching or going out on the Centennial is all just another week in the Friday Harbor Labs (FHL). When this is the same schedule twenty others share with you it doesn’t seem as hard of a schedule. Especially when the sun doesn’t go down until ten at night, you get used to the work hard and play hard cycle that everyone seems to adopt when they come here.

My name is Deanna and I’m one of three students working with Molly this summer. My project is on Botrylloides violaceus which is an invasive here in the United States on both coasts. It originally came over from Japan and was first spotted in the 70’s here in the San Juan Islands. These sea squirts are a member of the fouling community and are pretty abundant at several harbors here in Washington. We went collecting on Tuesday last week and we found a lot at Roche Harbor (RH) and Fisherman’s Bay (FB) which are two of my field sites. We also saw a small colony of them at Cattle Point in the tide pools when we went one weekend. What I’m looking at with these guys is to see if they have any acclimation to local environmental conditions. This is important to look at because this invader is not found in some harbors (like the FHL docks) but is very abundant at others (FB). It would be interesting to find out which conditions they favor in order to see which harbors might be at greater risk of getting invaded.

This last week was really exciting as we prepped petri dishes containing juvenile Botrylloides violaceus for the field. After all the little guys were settled on the dishes we attached them to pvc trays submerged in 12°C seawater . . . while the plates were upside down. That was challenging and Molly and I worked late into the night/morning getting everything ready for deployment the next day.

With six hours or so of sleep we started up again later in the morning. We took the Coot (one of the four motor boats available for research) out to Fisherman’s Bay and hung the first of three of my contraptions. It was actually really good conditions for deployment because it was overcast. You would think that having a sunny day would make it better, but with the clouds it kept the trays cool while we assembled them in the field.

After hanging the one out at FB we headed back to the labs for lunch. In the afternoon we hung one off of the FHL docks and then took our sweet Ford Truck out to RH to hang the third and final tray. So now, my experiment has officially begun and we’ll be checking on it this Friday!

That’s all for now guys. We’ll be sure to keep you updated!

Dicty Dancing

Hello everyone! My name is Kirsten Bickford and I am doing summer research with Catherine O’Keeffe and Dr. Parrish. We are using the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum to eventually isolate putative mRNA decapping enzymes. These enzymes, termed Nudix enzymes, are found in large viruses all the way up to humans so being able to isolate and define the function of these enzymes is very exciting.

In order to do our experiments, we need a constant stock of healthy cells. We grow the Dicty cells on plates and in a flask and usually pass them about 3 times a week, so as to diminish genomic mutations. So far we have isolated genomic DNA, and are starting the process of doing a gene knockout. Currently, we are ligating and transforming parts of the gene into bacterial cells, but this is just the beginning of the process.

Compared to working in class laboratory settings, summer research is much more independent. Although I have learned sterile technique previously, there is much more pressure to do it properly as our cells will become contaminated otherwise. Many of the molecular techniques are new to me but with Dr. Parrish’s supervision, I have been able to learn how to do them properly and on my own. Pipetting is a huge factor and my technique has definitely improved since the start of the summer.

Hopefully our research will continue to go as planned, without equipment failures or major contamination. We will definitely be busy for the next 5 weeks, but another blog post is coming soon!

Driving Miss Dicty

We are currently in our fourth week of research here at the McDaniel Dicty Lab. Dr. Parrish, Kirsten Bickford, and I (Catherine O’Keeffe) are studying the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum, also known as a slime mold. We are interested in looking at two particular genes that code for possible mRNA decapping enzymes.  We started this project at the very beginning, which means had had to grow the amoeba cells from stocks. Since our first days in late May we have been growing and passing cells. Luckily, the cells have been healthy and we only had one unfortunate case of fungal contamination. We have been mastering many molecular techniques such as DNA extraction, PCR, gel electrophoresis, ligation, and transformation.

One thing that surprised me about working here is the amount of independence we have. Before this summer, I was not too confident in my lab skills. However, now I am much more self-assured and feel motivated to work on my own initiative. One of my favorite things to do is troubleshoot (even though this means that something went wrong). Though we are just undergraduate students, Dr. Parrish asks us what we think needs to be changed and has us research to figure out how to fix the experiment.  We look at the protocols, search online, and talk together to figure out a solution.

Working in the lab is also a lot of fun! We listen to music, have glar dates together, and joke around. Enjoy these pictures: