Back in Georgia, Week 3 was off to a great start. The phytoplankton culture looked strong, there were fresh crudes to test in my phytoplankton inhibition assay (PIA) like the one above, and we had a solid game of pickup soccer among the lab members.
But by Wednesday, the abundance of phytoplankton in my PIA was dropping across the board. This is not the type of cell death I am looking for, because even the phytos who hadn’t been treated with possibly algicidal crude extracts were disappearing.
Then I remembered what a helpful lab technician had told me about my phyto culture.
—-“They typically don’t like this kind of bottle, and the cap was on a little too tight,” she said as she showed me her beakers of phytoplankton strains, which were covered in loose-fitting aluminum foil.—-
Even though they appeared to be doing OK, I was suffocating my phytoplankton!! Just like land plants, my phytos can’t grow without CO2, and these stressed out cells were not reproducing as they normally do, which is about doubling daily.
The only way to rescue them was to…well, I couldn’t really rescue them because the experiment was flawed…so I poured the remaining ones into a container of 10% bleach labeled “Unhappy Phytos” and restarted the experiment with a new strain borrowed from the technician.
The experiment is now back on track, and the only consequence is having to come into the lab a few times on the weekend. Luckily my barracks is only 200 yards from the lab.