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Field work with Nature Live

3 Posts tagged with the dna tag
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What do you study at the Museum?

I study polychaetes (marine segmented worms), from the deep sea and from whale-falls and hydrothermal vents. Polychaetes are related to earth worms but usually a lot prettier and more colourful. I am describing new species that we discover in the deep sea samples, and I sequence their DNA to see how they are related to each other.

 

The DNA sequences can also be used to study how these worms move around in the sea. It can be useful to know if they can go anywhere else if their current habitat becomes inhospitable or if they're stuck in one place and doomed when bad things happen.

 

What are you most excited about finding/seeing on the trip?

If we get those whale bones up from the sea floor, I am sure that there are undescribed worm species on them. I am very curious to see what they look like, and also to bring them back to the lab and sequence their DNA to see where they belong among the other worms from similar habitats.

 

Where have you been previously on field work?

In my undergraduate studies I spent one year on Svalbard studying Arctic Biology, and we went on several field trips both on sea and on land. And then I've been to New Zealand, Chile and on an expedition to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and on several expeditions at sea back home in Sweden.

 

What is your favourite thing about going on field work?

My favourite thing is getting the samples! It's a lot like looking for treasure; whenever the sampling gear comes aboard we're all very excited to see what is brought up with it. Even a heap of mud can cause quite a shuffle when everybody wants to see what's in it and pick out the things they work on.

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I am writing this blog while chomping on a delicious, freshly-fried pork scratching! Amazing.

 

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Today we did a live-video-link to the Museum's Attenborough Studio (our last two will be at 12.30 and 14.30 on Saturday 18 Feb) from the middle of a river near our hut – Rio Terbi. Perched on top of a rock we spoke to an audience in London about our trip and answered their questions about our time here.

 

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One young member of the audience asked about the weight of an acorn we held to camera – we actually don't have any scales so we can't tell for certain, but we estimate it as being about 4 to 5 times bigger than your average UK acorn. Sorry we can't be more accurate!

 

The river is the lifeblood of the forest and our hut - we get our water supply directly from it and use it to cook, wash and drink.

 

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Today we waked for about an hour to a site downstream and by the river.

 

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Holger showed me how he collects aquatic lichens...

 

 

And Alex, Daniel and Neil set up beside the river and went about collecting a huge amount of different plants.

 

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I have been promoted from simply being a weight to hold down specimens to pressing plants and collecting samples for DNA. I also came in useful for a particularly high orchid. We have poles that we normally use to cut specimens that are out of arms reach but we thought this was quicker and more fun. It's nice to know that I am helping out!

 

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Species of the day goes to Jo and it is a carnivorous liverwort! It's in the genus Colura and lives on leaves.

 

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It’s lobes form water sacs, which could be an adaptation to retain moisture, and people have found tiny microscopic creatures called nematodes in these water sacs. It has been suggested that the liverwort dissolves theses tiny creatures and eats them! As Jo says, when you live on only a leaf, every little helps. She also says that up close they look like tiny teapots which made Holger laugh – 'so British', he exclaimed!

 

I can't get close enough to see if I agree with the teapot analogy - have a search for Colura and tell me what you think!

 

Until tomorrow

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Food update! We have been brought a butchered pig to add to the holy duo of rice and beans – this is a gruesome picture of the skin but the meat was delicious! I have also spied some sausages amongst the supplies and wait eagerly for their appearance at the dinner table!

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The main aim of our trip is to document the biodiversity of the area and collect different species of plants. We take five copies of each species – one goes to INBIO, one to the Missouri Botanical Garden, one each to the National Herbarium of Panama and the National Museum of Costa Rica and one to the Natural History Museum.

 

Collecting is a meditative process and it is wonderful to be in the field as a team, finding out what the environment holds. Amongst the flowering plant team (Daniel, Alex and Neil) the duties of collecting are split: today, Daniel searched out the different species in the area and collected them, Neil and Alex set up a small processing area - one photographing and taking DNA samples of each species and the other pressing the five copies of each species between sheets of newspaper.

 

I had a go at pressing but my main duty was the honourable task of pressing down on the pile of specimens, a job that you may think could be done by a rock or gravity but Neil described my contribution as very useful, so here I am hard at work:

 

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These specimens are bagged up and brought back to the hut at the end of the day where they are placed in sealed bags full of 70% alcohol, which stops them rotting. These specimens will be carried down the mountain and dried on heaters before being sent to the various institutes to be mounted and added to their collections (a collection of pressed plants is called a herbarium).

 

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Neil explained the process to me in the field:

 

 

The DNA is stored in silica gel which keeps the samples dry by absorbing the moisture in the atmosphere. I have lots of the stuff (which I keep in tied-up tights) to try and keep all my equipment - kindly lent to me by the museum - free from moisture.

 

I made what could be the 'driest' video of all time about how you dehydrate the silica once it has done it’s job and is saturated with liquid - dry-fried next to the omnipresent beans, so worth watching for that scene if nothing else. My silica is dark blue when saturated with moisture and orange when dehydrated:

 

 

Species of the day – Vaccinium bocatorense (collected by the flowering plants team) is very closely related to the blueberry and grows between 1.5 to 2 metres tall. It’s endemic to the national park so is not found anywhere else in the world and it’s a beauty!

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Tomorrow we set off to spend a couple of nights camping at a location a few hours walk form our hut - I will try and blog from there but if things go quiet due to lack of internet access, I’ll be back on Wednesday.