So, Sebastianna (from the Communications Office) was kind enough to set up this blog for Adam and I to document our experience doing science research at a larger institution than Haverford for the summer.
Although Haverford and Bryn Mawr’s science departments can offer some opportunities for students to pursue research in the summertime, the range of topics for research that any department can offer is limited by the resources and size of a liberal arts college. I was most interested in exploring research opportunities that combine my interests in biology and geology, however the “Geobiology” program at USC caught my eye. Broadly, the program looks at the interaction of life and earth sciences. Practically, research topics encompass sub-disciplines such as oceanography, ecology, genetics, biochemistry, and geochemistry.
In the laboratory of Katrina Edwards, whom I am working with for the summer, I’m studying the microbial diversity of sulfide plume particles from hydrothermal vents in the Pacific Ocean. With the advent of ALVIN and JASON submersibles, deep-ocean exploration uncovered teeming life at hydrothermal vents in the deep-ocean that was previously believed to be a desert. As research progressed, hydrothermal vent ecosystems gained popularity when many believed they could be used as proxies for ecosystems on other planets (i.e. Mars). So, a fair amount is known of the microorganisms that inhabit the vent itself, as well as the organisms expected in the basalt of the sea-floor on the side of the vents, however, knowledge of the microbes that inhabit the plume of sulfide particles that are shot up through the vent is limited.
With the help of Brandy Toner (now at U.Minn-Twin Cities, previously a post-doc in our lab), who performed the sub-sampling of the field samples from sediment traps on the edge of hydrothermal vents, I’ve extracted DNA from about 30 separate samples, with promising results so far. Using microbiological and molecular biology techniques, such as culturing and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), I’m able to see that there’s bacteria of interest in these samples. Using computational and sequencing methods, I’ll be able to find out how the samples vary with relation to each other, as well as to other ocean environments. As of today, it’s looking like I’ll have about 20 good sub-sampled DNA extracts to perform computational work on. These should yield interesting results in the weeks to come!