Diving deep: Exploring microbial communities under the seafloor

As we all sat staring at three large monitors in the front of the room, the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Jason hung on to a borehole observatory with one hydraulic arm as the other arm plugged our sampling equipment into a valve. The ROV was about 4,500 meters under the ship, and we were preparing to collect water from over 200 meters below the seafloor, accessing fluid harboring an underexplored microbial community in the basaltic aquifers that exist there. We were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean at a site referred to as North Pond where multiple Circulation Obviation Retrofit Kit (CORK) observatories were previously installed, allowing us to use an ROV to collect fluids flowing under the seafloor.

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How Molecular Ecologists Work: Tatiana Giraud is all about the paper (agendas/lists)

Welcome to “How Molecular Ecologists Work”, the interview series that asks scientists how they get stuff done.

This week’s interview is from Dr. Tatiana Giraud. Tatiana and her group focus on the wide world of fungi, asking questions about their evolution, speciation, and relationship with humans.

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How Molecular Ecologists Work: Catherine Peichel on being the earliest bird and scheduling to take out the trash

Welcome to “How Molecular Ecologists Work”, the interview series that asks scientists how they get stuff done.

This week’s interview is from Dr. Catherine Peichel. Katie and her lab have used genomic data from three spine stickleback to make big discoveries about the process of speciation and sex chromosome evolution (among many, many others).

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How Molecular Ecologists Work: Richard Hamelin on Moving Art and making scientific use of sliced bread

Welcome to “How Molecular Ecologists Work”, the interview series that asks scientists how they get stuff done.

This week’s interview is from Dr. Richard Hamelin. Richard and his lab investigate all things tree pathogen, from how to detect them to how to encourage resistance.

Location: University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC and Université Laval, Quebec city, QC.

Current Position: Professor

Current mobile device(s): iPhone 6

Current computer(s): MacBook Air

What kind of research do you?

I study tree pathogens to learn how they attack trees, what special adaptation makes them pathogens and I use genomics to try to untangle their epidemiology.

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How Molecular Ecologists Work returns!

Are you interested in how scientists you admire get stuff done? Do you think that reading about someone else’s productivity is a reasonable–but thinly veiled–excuse to waste ten minutes of your day? Do you enjoy comparing your desk to others’?

Well, good news. How Molecular Ecologists Work, our series of interviews that explore the day-to-day work of diverse scientists in Molecular Ecology, returns next week. Here’s the schedule:

11/22 — Dr. Richard Hamelin (University of British Columbia & Université Laval, Canada)

11/29 — Dr. Catherine Peichel (University of Bern, Switzerland)

12/6 — Dr. Tatiana Giraud (Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France)

12/13 — Dr. Craig Primmer (University of Helsinki, Finland)

12/20 — Dr. Katy Heath (University of Illinois, United States)

12/27 — Dr. Chris Jiggins (University of Cambridge, United Kingdom)

1/3 — Dr. Carlos Daniel Cadena (Universidad de los Andes, Colombia)

1/10 — Dr. Kathryn Hodgins (Monash University, Australia)

1/17 — Dr. Hanna Kokko (University of Zurich, Switzerland)

1/24 — Dr. Sean Hoban (The Morton Arboretum, United States)

Can’t wait until next Wednesday? Have a look at last year’s series to hold you over.

Thanks to the readership for all of your suggestions! See you next week….

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0.80994 leagues under the sea

The science crew

After a month on the water (and a few weeks getting my land legs again), I’m happily settling back in at home. I just returned from an expedition to a site known as North Pond along the western flank of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge aboard the research vessel (R/V) Atlantis, operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). The cruise was fantastic and I had the chance to chat with different research groups about their projects centered on understanding the ecology of microbial communities in the deep sea. Over the course of my next set of posts, I will discuss some of the cool research led by the scientists I had the chance to work with on the cruise.

The expedition focused on understanding processes and microbial communities under the seafloor. One way to study this ecosystem involves collecting water samples (crustal fluid) from under the oceanic crust at unique platforms referred to as Circulation Obviation Retrofit Kits (CORKs) that have been installed on the seafloor. The basaltic aquifers that we collected fluid from are the largest on the planet, and studying what biogeochemical processes are doing down there helps us better understand cycles globally.

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En garde! Assortative mating in hybrid swordtails

Understanding reproductive isolation is a pretty darn important part of understanding evolution. For new species to form, gene flow needs to be limited in some way. Under allopatry, limiting gene flow is straight forward; individuals never encounter each other so there is no opportunity to interbreed. However, when individuals can access each other this process becomes more complicated. Premating isolation is one mechanism that can limit gene flow between populations or incipient species. For example, when there is selection against hybrids, premating isolation should evolve through reinforcement.

However, premating isolation is not necessarily consistent across space and time within a species. A study led by Molly Schumer focuses on the dynamics of assortative mating in recently established hybrid populations of swordtails, Xiphophorus. In short, it’s complicated and depends on many things.

Swordtails are a great evolutionary system. These are little fish that live in streams of Central America and Mexico. Two species, X. birchmanni and X. malinche, historically have not hybridized. However, around 1997, hybrids were identified (Rosenthal et al., 2003). In certain sites, only hybrids can be found, suggesting that species recognition has somehow broken down. Further studies showed that pollution in the form of sewage and agricultural runoff disrupt chemical signaling, thus inhibiting assortative mating (Fisher et al., 2006). As a result, we know when hybridization started between species, which provides a powerful system to understand the effects of admixture on reproductive isolation.

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