Month: November 2023

Art Meets Science: ‘Floating Points’ at AVS Gallery

Floating Points Exhibit by artist Oskar Landi in The Alexey von Schlippe Gallery of Art at Avery Point on Nov. 14, 2023. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

The presence of microplastics in the world’s oceans is the focus of the exhibition “Floating Points: Observing the Plastisphere with NASA”, on view at Alexey von Schlippe (AVS) Gallery of Art at Avery Point through Dec. 10. Link to full article in UConn Today.

Meet Felipe Soares: our Ocean Modeling Technician

Photo credit: Beatriz Silva

By Mengyang Zhou

Felipe Soares shared his career journey as an ocean modeler, his experiences, challenges, and the key role he plays in advancing ocean modeling research in the Coastal Biogeochemistry Dynamics Laboratory in our department.

Mengyang: Can you tell us about your career path? 

Felipe: So, let me start from the very beginning. I was always passionate about nature and marine life and had an inclination to be a marine biologist. But when the time arrived to choose a career, I found myself very uncertain. One day my mother suggested that I take a look at the Oceanography course at the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ). Initially, it sounded very unconventional to me, and I basically disregarded it. However, after reading about it in a career guidebook it captivated me and suddenly, I couldn’t envision any other option. While I was an Oceanography undergrad student at UERJ, I actively sought opportunities in research labs, and that led me to acquire some skills and expand my network beyond the university. This pursuit led me to get an internship at the IEAPM (a Brazilian Navy research institute) and subsequently at Prooceano, a growing and already well-established oceanography consulting company in Rio de Janeiro in the late 2000’s. So, at this point my career was already leaning towards the industry. Over the next twelve years, I worked at this company, playing a pivotal role in ocean modeling, which involved extensive model preparation, running, and evaluation. Simultaneously, I pursued my master’s at the Rio de Janeiro Federal University (UFRJ) studying the seasonality of the Brazil Current mesoscale activity. Upon discovering an open position at Sam’s lab, which required expertise aligned with my experience, I researched her work. The multidisciplinary aspect of the work was particularly appealing to me, presenting an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, acquire new skills, and enrich both my career and life. Consequently, I joined the DMS (Department of Marine Sciences) to work at the Coastal Biogeochemistry Dynamics Lab in August 2021. 

Mengyang: What’s your current position in our department? 

Felipe: I am currently a research assistant II, contributing to almost all projects within Sam’s lab. As a technician in a modeling lab, my responsibilities involve running the models, conducting data analyses, comparing the model results with observations, and generating plots and statistics. These outputs are used in presentations, papers, daily research activities, etc. 

Mengyang: What do you enjoy most about your current position, and what are the most challenging parts about this job, if any? 

Felipe: I like tackling problems that demand both programming skills and oceanographic knowledge. This often involves managing large datasets and highlighting the information that will be useful for the scientists in a plot (and maybe make them visually appealing too). Additionally, by participating in diverse and engaging research projects you can learn a lot and be incredibly fulfilling. The most challenging part is the responsibility of overseeing model runs which are often the primary source of data for the lab’s projects. Any technical problems or configuration errors can significantly impact the lab’s research schedule and objectives. 

Mengyang: What do you do outside of work for fun, to balance life and work?

Felipe: Outside of work, I love spending time in nature. Whether it’s hiking with my family or fishing in the streams (and hopefully back to trail running soon), you can probably find me exploring the parks in eastern CT during weekends. Soccer is also another passion (or maybe a religion) for me. I am glad that I can follow all Vasco da Gama matches in the Brazilian league from the US, and that there’s an awesome soccer group in the DMS that plays every Friday here at Avery Point.

Unraveling phytoplankton nutrient proclivity in an ocean desert

Graduate student Catherine Crowley went on research cruises to investigate the contribution of small eukaryotes to new production in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

The RV Kilo-Moana Katie was on.
Katie and her colleagues: Julie Granger, Katie Crowley, Katherine Ackerman, Matt Miller (left to right) Photo credits: Catherine Crowley

By Mengyang Zhou

Catherine (Katie) Crowley, a Ph.D. student in the Granger Laboratory, participated in two research cruises in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG) in the summer of 2023. The cruises, in August and September 2023, were aboard the R/V Kilo Moana as part of the Hawaiian Ocean Time Series (HOT) program at Station ALOHA (A Long-Term Oligotrophic Habitat Assessment). HOT is one of the longest-running time series in the ocean spanning over 30 years. This region of the Pacific Ocean is known as the “ocean desert”, with relatively little nutrients in the surface waters due to the low nutrient supply common in subtropical gyres. However, it is not well understood how certain phytoplankton living in surface waters in summer access the nutrients in the deeper waters. Katie’s research will investigate how particular phytoplankton (eukaryotes) access subsurface nitrogen at Station ALOHA, to better understand how the productivity in subtropical gyres will be impacted by climate change.

On the cruises this summer, she performed isotope incubation experiments and collected samples for nitrogen isotope analyses and cell counts. Back at UConn, she will sort the phytoplankton populations from the samples she collected on a fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) flow cytometer and aim to examine their nitrogen composition, to reveal which nutrients these phytoplankton have a taste preference for in the subtropical gyre. She plans to present this work with her collaborators, the White Lab from the University of Hawaii) and the Marchetti Lab from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) at the upcoming Ocean Science Meeting in 2024. 

To reflect on her cruise experience this summer, Katie says: “These collaborative cruises allowed me to gain hands-on experience and learn about eukaryotic primary production in the Pacific Gyre. As a graduate student, I was able to collect data for my research and assist the HOT team with their time-series collections.”

New multi-study analysis of gut microbiome data from blue mussels

Caption: Graphical abstract depicting that a multi-study analysis of raw 16S gut microbiome data collected from blue mussels revealed that depuration strongly influences the recovered microbial community.

Everybody poops, even mussels! And it turns out that whether a mussels has pooped matters a lot when you sample its gut microbiome. New research published in Environmental Microbiology by the Ward lab and lead author Tyler Griffin reveals that fecal egestion (or depuration) status of mussels is a critically important factor for determining the microbial community composition in the mussel gut. By performing a multistudy re-analysis of microbiome data from several projects conducted by the Ward lab over seven years, they were able to broaden the understanding of gut microbial dynamics of these foundational invertebrates in Long Island Sound. Link to the article.

Microplastics in Shellfish at “Extremely Low” Levels Globally

A group of researchers at DMS joined together under Sandra Shumway and Evan Ward, critically reviewed 750+ publications on microplastics and molluscs in the field and laboratory. This incredible effort has resulted in a thoughtful review of the cluttered scientific literature. Many studies on suspension feeding molluscs and microplastics have perpetuated inaccurate findings based on inappropriate methodologies, poor animal husbandry, and misinterpreted results. All of these false conclusions have caused a damaging narrative for the shellfish industry, raising concerns about the safety of eating shellfish. While microplastics are ingested by shellfish, microplastics in molluscs are extremely low globally as these animals are capable of selective capture, ingestion, and egestion of particles. In reality, the number of microplastics inhaled and consumed by humans in everyday life far outweighs the number of microplastics found in shellfish. Recommendations were provided for future studies in both the field and laboratory that will prevent researchers from falling into the pitfalls discussed in this review. This review is presented from the perspective of experts on shellfish physiology and represents the opinions of, and assessments made by, the authors. The authors hope this review can be used as a starting point for those interested in furthering this field of research with thoughtful experimental questions. Link to the article.