Thursday, January 18, 2018

Play

"Play is the highest form of research." - Albert Einstein

I was the last one in the row walking single-file out of the aquarium. I turned around to scan over the room one more time, then stepped into the hallway as the aquarium door swung shut behind me.

Scallops in the channel. The one up on the wall has attached
itself with byssal threads.
Mark shrugged. "Well, we'll see what happens," he said. Everyone smiled. We were excited to see what our experiment would yield.

A key part of the Antarctic training program is not just learning how to collect samples in Antarctica, but how to best make use of the lab facilities at McMurdo. As in all things, we're learning by experience, by setting up small group projects to investigate organisms we're interested in. My group noticed that the scallops in McMurdo Sound, Adamussium colbecki, form byssal threads. It's pretty common for bivalves to attach themselves to a substratum using biogenic threads, but we started wondering what factors would prompt a scallop to make the byssus (or not).

To find out, we set up an experiment in the Crary Lab at McMurdo Station. We used leftover tanks to partition a channel in the seawater flow-through facility. We split our scallops between the channel (with high flow) and another segregated area (with no flow), expecting that the scallops in the flow would make byssal threads to withstand the sheer of the water moving past them.

Byssal threads on a scallop. 
It was a bit difficult to get the flow in the channel up to a level that would really affect the scallops. We could only get it to about 4 cm/s, which is freaking slow in biological terms. After leaving the scallops overnight, we returned to find that only 1 out of 5 individuals had made byssal threads in the flow treatment, but 1 out of 5 individuals had made byssal threads in the no-flow treatment. The pattern was clear: flow does not prompt scallops to make byssal threads.

We'll keep playing around with the scallops over the next few weeks. Personally, I'd like to measure the tensile strength of the threads they make, because similar byssal threads made by mussels are notoriously strong. I'm glad for the opportunity to study Antarctic species and learn by experience how research is done down here!

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