Work has commenced on our new project, and my hope is to keep this site updated with blogs of our progress as it happens. Part of the challenge of working in upstate/central New York (7 hrs from the ocean…) is maintaining live marine animals for experiments. It’s not quite as simple as bringing them in a bucket of seawater and putting in an airstone 🙂 Marine invertebrates, especially sea stars, are enormously sensitive to seawater chemistry, and are generally pretty “gooey” – they exude a large amount of mucus when they’re upset. Hence, once they come in, we will have to perform numerous, daily water changes, and there has to be adequate filtration for them to be maintained. Add to this the fact that we are hitting them with a pathogen, so we can’t have any cross-contamination. Plus, we also need to keep them fed and happy for the duration of our experiments!
Graduate student Elliot has been hard at work setting up the first 2 tanks, known as “holding tanks” – they’re basically 40 gallon troughs in which we’ll be holding the sea stars before (and after, if they make it…) the core experiments of our project.
View of the new aquarium facility – basically it’s a giant refrigerator. Alaskan sea stars need to be maintained at ~ 5 degrees C (~46 deg F), otherwise they show wasting disease symptoms without there being any wasting disease!
We have a few other tanks in the lab at the moment for the experiments. Chief amongst these is a quarantine tank, which will be used to isolate animals when they come in from the field before making their way into the other tanks. We have UV sterilizers waiting to be installed on these holding and the quarantine tanks, since previous observations have noted that SSaDV, the candidate pathogen involved in SSWD, is UV labile.
You might be asking – how do we get our seawater? The answer isn’t a giant truck that fills up at the dock in Manhattan. We actually make up our own seawater – “Instant Ocean”- which is basically everything in seawater in powder form. Those buckets above under the aquarium are the salts themselves. We just got in 2 x 55 Gallon tanks for making up large quantities of instant ocean, which will take place in the coldroom.
We still have much work to do to be ready for our expedition in the middle of September, but we’re getting there! Meanwhile we are also testing new equipment, and picking sites for our January research cruise in the Puget Sound.
Stay tuned for more from the Team Aquatic Virus as we head towards our first experiments and analyses!