Mid summer accomplishments

I like to take a moment once in a while and think about what we’ve accomplished. It’s important to do that, because the day to day grind of doing science often involved lots of small jobs that don’t seem to contribute to the overall picture. Today’s thoughts:

It’s been almost a year since I started at the University of Alaska Anchorage. I started with a completely empty space to house my fish, and an almost completely empty bench. I was very fortunate to hire my postdoc, Dr. Emily Lescak, who started shortly after I did. Together we stuffed my bench with everything we would need to look at microbes, measure the development and isolate DNA from fish, and analyze the host immune responses to microbes.  Our very first undergraduate student, Brianna Triplett from my hometown (hopefully I’ll be able to talk about what it means to me to be able to have students from Alaska work with me), helped us clean, organize, and collect our first bits of data while taking a challenging course load.

In addition to building up a lab, we built a working fish facility from scratch. We were extremely lucky to be able to use a pre-fab rack from a generous PI at UAA, Dr. Tim Hinterberger, for raising fish from embryos through the juvenile stage; however, we needed larger tanks for adults. We haggled with makers of fish racks until we realized there was no way we were going to be able to afford to purchase enough racks for two rooms and decided to build our own. This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Mark Currey, who works with Dr. Bill Cresko at the University of Oregon, and the countless phone calls and emails that he answered and photos he shared. We were also fortunate to have a tech in the vivarium, Joyce, who had experience putting together pipes and working with fish. Soon-to-be graduate student, Ryan Lucas, and patient and hard-working undergraduates, Koral Campbell, Kenneth Sparks, and Kelly Ireland, worked with Joyce, myself and Emily to put the shelves together, design piping and filtration systems, and glue and cut countless pipes. We are almost done with 4 racks, and are starting to work on our second fish facility room. Our large tanks for recirculating water just arrived today and are awaiting cleaning and assembly in the facility.

Spring brought our first germ free fish experiments in the lab, which is very important for a lab that studies host-microbe interactions! It was our first big experiment that was done almost completely in our lab (huge thanks to Mark and Bill for sharing their fish!). Our undergraduate student Keagan Whitcomb has been diligently taking measurements from various images we have from the fish, and we hope to present that data soon.


Making our first germ free fish!

In Alaska, spring and summer are prime times for harvesting food to last through the winter. In the lab this year, spring and early summer were prime times for collecting the data and materials we will analyze through the rest of the summer, fall and winter. We were able to collect fish and water samples from 4 different populations, and produce eggs for experiments from three different populations. Our collaborator, Dr. Brandon Briggs from UAA, will help us isolate DNA and characterize the microbes in the water, which we can then compare to the microbes in the guts of our stickleback. So many comparisons ahead!

IMAG3121 Gary and Koral take notes and pictures as Emily collects fishIMAG3436

A busy day in the lab! From left to right, Ryan examines colonies isolated on plates, Koral puts away new plates she poured, high school Hutton awardee Gary characterizes colonies from stickleback guts, and Kenneth examines microbial colonies under the microscope. (BTW, I put together that microscope!)


From top to bottom: Gary, Koral, Ryan and Emily isolate microbes from water and gut samples on a packed bench

In June we sadly watched Dr. Frank von Hippel pack his lab and ship it to it’s new home at Northern Arizona University. Dr. von Hippel has been an important mentor my first year here, as he was the only other stickleback researcher on campus and one of the few researchers in the state of Alaska to have a highly coveted RO1 grant from NIH. He was also a wonderful graduate mentor to Emily and undergraduate mentor to Ryan. He was very kind to introduce me to several stickleback researchers from other universities, as my lab will be the new Alaska contact for several researchers who study Alaskan stickleback populations. We started a collaborative research project with Dr. von Hippel before he left. We hope will turn into a productive and interesting project in the years to come.

It’s been a productive and busy year. A huge thank you to all everyone in our lab for their hard work, our collaborators at UAA and UO, and future collaborators who have been helping me put together ideas!