Thoughts on Science
There is a small but active group of scientific researchers in the St. Louis area who lead an organization called St. Louis Ecology, Evolution and Conservation (SLEEC). This group includes individuals from most of the area universities as well as many from local institutions like Missouri Botanical Garden, the St. Louis Zoo, and National Great Rivers Research and Education Center. The organization hosts several journal clubs on specialty themes - like a book club for the discussion of scientific research publications.
The other major contribution of SLEEC to the community is the annual fall retreat. On September 22nd, Maryville University hosted about 150 scientists to hear 15 presentations and view about 40 posters (including one below from yours truly). It is always refreshing to get out of your own work to hear what types of questions others are striving to answer. This year, there were interesting talks from two speakers about the movement of Galapagos tortoises and salamanders (or "long frogs" as the speaker called them). Two other presentations from different universities explored different aspects of malaria in birds. There were also plenty of plant-focused talks, including one about the purpose of paired spikelets is most grasses; one can produce a seed while the second will not, but instead provides energy for the growth of the seed.
This retreat provides wonderful opportunities for students, faculty, and institutional researchers to learn from each other in both formal (talks and posters) and informal (meals and post-event picnic) settings. I have enjoyed these opportunities to reconnect with former colleagues at MGB and make new connections in the ecological realm.
A few weeks ago, Dr. Jason Knouft, the PI of the lab where I work, was busily setting up a microscope and a variety of sterilized tools. Most of the readers of this post will not appreciate how unusual this is. While I'm spending much of my time these days at a microscope to identify the many aquatic invertebrates I've collected, Jason's research efforts are generally spent either collecting fish in rivers or analyzing data using GIS (for my non-tech/science readers, we'll say fancy mapping).
While many wise graduate students would run and hide when such unusual activities begin in the lab, I elected to observe quietly to see where the day would lead. Soon the lab bench held not only the microscope and tools, but also a container of live fish and a cooler with liquid nitrogen. At this point, I knew I would be witnessing an interesting event. Jason was going to be collecting fish tissue for some baseline genomic work.
Soon, Dr. Warren from Washington University arrived and the tissue collection began. I grabbed my phone and started taking pictures to document the process. The fish were anesthetized before being sacrificed to expand our knowledge of fish genetics. Next, brain tissue was removed, packaged, and frozen to preserve the DNA. Since these little fish have small brains, extra muscle tissue was collected and frozen, just in case. All in all, the dissection and tissue collection from 3 fish only took about 20 minutes. The work to read the DNA of these fish will take quite a bit longer.