News & Blog
June 5, 2023Phlytech agri-startup founders share tips for eco-entrepreneurial successPhlytech agri-startup founders share tips for eco-entrepreneurial success
May 30, 2023Saved from Extinction, Southern California’s Channel Island Foxes Now Face New Threat to SurvivalSaved from Extinction, Southern California’s Channel Island Foxes Now Face New Threat to Survival
May 23, 2023Unlocking the ocean’s secret: Natural carbon captureUnlocking the ocean’s secret: Natural carbon capture
May 16, 2023Extrapolations: Visualizing climate realities through fictionExtrapolations: Visualizing climate realities through fiction
May 16, 2023Wrigley Institute celebrates Earth Month 2023Wrigley Institute celebrates Earth Month 2023
May 15, 2023“My Story is a Climate Story” on display at the Wrigley Marine Science Center“My Story is a Climate Story” on display at the Wrigley Marine Science Center
Blog Posts from Our Fellows & Students
Clock regulation and age in giant kelp
My undergraduate researcher peers at me over her phone flashlight as I shiver in my long sleeve t-shirt, sweatpants, and hoodie. She looks into the night-dark waters off the floating dock, and then back at me. “Are you sure you’ll be okay, Inessa?” “Pft. Yeah, I’ll be fine.” I pull off my clothes until I’m just in my swimsuit, and then pull on my snorkel and mask. Reminding myself that the only sharks in the cove are harmless leopard sharks, I take the plunge into the water. Bioluminescent sparks dance all around me as I move my limbs, and I take a deep breath before diving just deep enough to swim under ropes and floating kelp to our experimental setup hanging off the dock. Luckily, the light from Wrigley’s underwater camera filters its way to our position. Usually I’m concerned about potential interruption of marine biorhythms by the artificial light, but tonight I’m glad for its tenuous comfort. I grab a kelp blade from our setup and pass it to my fellow researcher for her to sample. I could get out of the water while she does this, but then I’d just be colder when I go back in to return the kelp. So instead I peer through my mask to the murky depths below, watching the shadows of fish fade in and out. Finally, she hands me the kelp to return to our setup, and I swim back to the ladder to get out. Surprisingly, I’m feeling a bit warmer than I did before entering the water, but my undergrad marks my words as lies to my laughter. I look up to the night sky splattered with stars, and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. Measuring chlorophyll extracted from kelp (Photo by Yannick Peterhans/WIES) Hello! My name is Inessa Chandra, and I’m a fourth year PhD candidate in USC’s Marine and Environmental Biology department working with Dr. Andrew Gracey and Dr. Sergey Nuzhdin. Those who read the Wrigley Graduate Fellow blog posts last summer may remember me as the vampiric researcher studying the circadian clock in giant kelp, an endeavor which keeps me awake at strange hours to study how kelp acts at different times of the day. For those of you joining us for the first time, my main question is whether this kelp schedule is an immediate reaction to external environmental stimuli like light or internally driven like our own human biological clocks. Why is this important? Giant kelp is an ecologically and economically important species, creating huge underwater forests that house many different types of organisms. Like plants, they photosynthesize, using the power of the sun to capture carbon dioxide from the environment, which they store as sugars to power their growth. They can also suck up a lot of excess nutrients like from human run-off, which prevents negative ecological phenomena like harmful algal blooms with their toxins and deoxygenation. Because of these positive effects on the environment and their amazing growth rate (up to 50-60 cm per day!), there’s a lot of interest in using giant kelp as a sustainable resource for food, agricultural feedstock and fertilizer, pharmaceuticals, commercial products like clothing and bioplastics, and especially biofuel. Kelp blade used to extract samples(Photo by Yannick Peterhans/WIES) As with most of our resources, we want to know how to make kelp grow faster, become stronger or more chock full of whatever we want to extract (e.g. ethanol, protein, nitrogen), grow where we want it, and stay fresh and healthy. Because clocks organize biological functions to optimize fitness, their leveraging and manipulation can help with all of these aims. For our terrestrial crops, clocks regulate not only photosynthesis/growth, but also metabolism, herbivore defenses, water use/drought resistance, stress response, and reproduction, among other things. In a lot of organisms- including humans- biological clocks and their dysfunction are also related to aging, or senescence. So knowing about the circadian clock in giant kelp would go a long way to making kelp both environmentally and economically sustainable, especially as we work to restore kelp forests devastated by ecological disasters and maintain forests in the face of changing climate such as ocean warming. One problem- we know next to nothing about the circadian clock in giant kelp- or whether kelp even has a clock. This is where my research starts. Retrieving kelp blade for sampling from the floating dock (Photo by Yannick Peterhans/WIES) Previously, I found that kelp genes cycle in their expression levels on a diurnal basis under both natural field conditions and lab-controlled constant conditions, the latter of which is indicative of a circadian clock. However, there were a lot less rhythmic genes common to both datasets than I expected. Looking back into the metadata, I realized that the ocean-acclimated kelp was sampled at the base of the kelp blade (leaf-like structure), near the stipe (stem-like structure), whereas the lab kelp under constant conditions was sampled near the tip of the kelp blade. This is important because of age- the base of the kelp is younger while the tip is older, and previous research in other organisms shows a correlation between clock strength and age. Additionally, other kelp research had indicated that position across the kelp blade correlated with differences in enzyme activity and other biological functions. Interest peaked, this year I decided to test whether position across the blade and associated tissue age affected the circadian clock with the help of my undergraduate researcher, Kekoa Nelson. While it’s still too early to report findings, I am excited- if a little sleep deprived- with this new direction my research is taking, and I hope to share the coolness of kelp with you again soon. I’m grateful for the opportunity and help Wrigley has afforded me to continue my research and do my small part to make the world a better place.
Encounters with Catalina Island
The sun is beginning to dip behind the hills of the western end of Catalina Island when a western gull drops down into the water just an arm’s length away from my camera lens. I turn around in shock, knowing shore birds are often friendly but have never been gifted a subject in perfect golden light within spitting distance. I would spend the rest of the early evening with this gull, enjoying the last ounces of light before both the sun and the bird left for the night. This experience in Big Fisherman Cove wonderfully encapsulates my summer. Ethereal moments with wildlife with beyond-stunning landscapes that make my job as a photographer frankly extremely easy. Ready for a photo dive on the shore of Big Fisherman Cove this summer I started this adventure with wildlife some four months ago and half a bowling lane length’s away from a heron’s nest on the southern end of Big Fisherman Cove. The afternoon started uneventful, with their empty nest and my sleeping cell phone, leaving ample time for me to think and wait for the birds to return. An hour into my daydream my afternoon fun started abruptly, as first a female and then a male heron landed on their perch and began a distinctive dance of pecking and plucking before accepting one another into their home. 60 minutes later, competition arrived, and the accepted male was forced out of the nest. The next 20 minutes were filled with squalls and squeals, as the female heron made her feelings abundantly clear to the intruding male. These demands to vacate worked, as shortly after the competing male left the original male returned to the nest just as the sun dipped below the horizon. Not three weeks later, I entered Big Fisherman Cove again to the delightful sight of a moray eel. With a deep breath in my lungs and my camera in hand, I dove down to investigate as a shadow entered my peripheral view. Startled, I quickly ascended trying not to swallow any water and frantically turned around. Behind me, a 500-pound giant sea bass was swimming in water just a few meters deep. A curious and inquisitive fellow, he seemed to wonder what I was doing there as I gawked in my luck of stumbling upon this gentle giant. And curious he was, as the next 90 minutes were spent swimming together along the shore of Big Fisherman Cove, me diving below, around and sometimes right at this massive fish. He was never bothered and always came back for another look. Once our evening ended, the sea bass ended the dive right where I started, going back to his fish obligations as I exited the water. The giant sea bass that followed me around Big Fisherman Cove These experiences are just a few snapshots from the hundreds of hours I have spent photographing life at the USC Wrigley campus. And they barely scratch the surface of the summer I have had. They are three of over 70 individual photo assignments in just under four months. A small glimpse into the life of over half a terabyte of data and over 100,000 photos taken. This summer has been both exciting and lonely, transformative and yet a reaffirmation that I am on the right path. From the Maymester to Storymakers, the Bay Foundation to the Scientific Diving Discovery program, and to every single person, experience and animal that has made this summer so special, thank you. Thank you for letting me into your life, giving me the opportunity to do what I love to do, and teaching me so much along the way.
Learning universal skills through environmental communications
Hello everyone, my name is Alex Palakian, and I am a rising second year undergraduate interested in the intersection of environmental science, communication, and policy! Alongside taking classes that cover a wide range of my interests, I knew I wanted to supplement my college career with unique, interdisciplinary experiences. USC Wrigley’s Environmental Communications Internship combines skills unlike any other, and I am lucky enough to be selected as an intern this summer. In the snow during a visit to the San Gabriel Mountains Specifically, I wanted to combine my affinity for art and design into my environmental studies. Living in a world that continues to be confronted with the consequences of climate change, visually communicating the who, what, when, where, why’s of environmental issues is important to me. I want to use my skills as a vessel to inform, educate, and inspire change. A part of this internship is working with a university professor as a mentor and completing various communication projects for their work. This summer, I’ve remotely worked with Gabilan Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Megan Fieser whose research tackles sustainable solutions for plastic pollution. Specifically, her lab, the Fieser Lab, works to synthesize degradable plastics as replacements for commercial non-degradable plastics and upcycle current plastics into useful chemicals. As a Southern California native, I am constantly confronted with plastic accumulation, in particular on our beaches, so this issue is a personal interest of mine. As you can imagine, when I learned of Dr. Fieser’s research, I was even more excited to bridge the gap of understanding between the lab’s work and general society’s knowledge to raise awareness. Within this role, I’ve completed a diverse range of communication projects–all with endless support from Dr. Fieser and Wrigley coordinators Dr. Jessica Dutton and Kathryn Royster. For the lab, I’ve: constructed new presentation slide templates, designed a t-shirt for Dr. Fieser’s beach cleanups, made graphic material for the lab’s research, constructed website pages, produced a promotional video… and so much more! From these experiences, I was able to polish my graphic design skills as well as gain more confidence in my artistic abilities. However, my biggest takeaways come from our weekly speaker seminars where accomplished, prestigious communicators from all fields came to share their story, and what they have learned from being in the communications industry. Their unique experiences in newspapers, magazines, university institutions, and freelancing were all eye-opening and highlight the importance of communication from a perspective I’ve never thought about. The importance of relatable characters, the psychology of marketing, the power of social media, the emotional toll of journalism… (just to name a few) are all topics explored in our talks where I was able to ask one-on-one questions and learn from professionals. And during our weekly check-ins with the interns, we debriefed on what we have learned–allowing me to connect the skills, tasks, and information acquired to anything I want to do in the future. Which, at its core, is why I am grateful for this internship. Communication skills are universal and essential for success in any field. For me, this experience offered enough practicality and creativity to mature as a communicator and upcoming professional–making me feel more confident in my capacity to tackle new situations and do so with proficiency. I cannot thank USC Wrigley enough for this amazing opportunity!
Does the size of ocean bacteria matter to a sea virus?
My name is Melody Aleman. I am a first-gen 5th Year PhD Candidate in Dr. Jed Fuhrman’s lab at USC. I’m thankful to have been selected as a Wrigley Fellow this summer to conduct research in the field that contributes to my dissertation. My dissertation focuses on the ecological interactions between bacteria and viruses in the ocean.For those not familiar to marine microbiology, it may come as a shock to hear that in 20 drops (1 mL) of seawater there exists 1 million bacteria and 10 million viruses. But there is nothing to worry about, as most of these bacteria and viruses do not infect or otherwise harm humans. In fact, these microbes contribute to important biogeochemical processes in the ocean. Measuring the surface sea temperature which will be used to set incubators back at the lab. (Photo by Yannick Peterhans/WIES) Bacteria represent the base of the marine food web in which they are consumed by plankton, plankton consumed by fish, and fish consumed by humans (or birds!). Viruses disrupts this chain by infecting bacteria, a process in which the genetic material (DNA or RNA) of the virus is inserted into the bacterial cell. The host bacteria’s cellular machinery is hijacked to generate more viral progeny, causing the cell the burst. Thus, the host’s cellular contents (organic matter) are exposed to the environment that may be taken up by other bacteria or sent further down the ocean via sinking. This is how biological carbon pump works, focusing on how carbon can transform from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to organic carbon via photosynthesis by phytoplankton, and then ultimately be transported to the deep ocean. While there are free-floating bacteria and viruses in the ocean, there are also lots of particles in the ocean that bacteria can attach and grow on. Wherever bacteria grow, there are viruses searching for a host to infect. That’s why I am interested in measuring rates of virus production based on the size class of the host. To achieve this, I’ve conducted 3 bottle incubation experiments over the summer. Seawater filtration to collect microbial samples(Photo by Yannick Peterhans/WIES) Thanks to Wrigley Staff operating the boat, I first go out to my sampling location off the coast of Catalina Island where there is less of an influence of human activity and pollution. There, I toss a bucket over the side of the boat to collect 30 Liters of surface seawater and record its temperature.Back in the lab, I follow a dilution technique that reduces the amount of free-floating background viruses in my seawater samples. The first step is to concentrate my seawater sample through a filter with pores that are large enough to allow viruses to pass through (0.2 or 3 μm). 1 Liter of seawater is concentrated down to 100 mL. The second step is to generate virus-free seawater by pumping seawater through a series of filters. The last step is to combine 900 mL of virus-free seawater with 100 mL of concentrated seawater, so I can get back to 1 Liter total. I do this 3 times per size fraction, resulting in 6 incubation bottles. Once my incubation bottles are set-up and the incubator is set to the sea surface temperature measured earlier, I can begin sub-sampling. I take samples for cell counts and for future DNA extractions. I do this at every-time point of my incubation experiment (0, 18, and 24 hours). The idea is that bacteria that were already infected by viruses at the beginning of the incubation will eventually burst. Thus, I can track the change in virus abundance overtime, which should increase by the end of the experiment.I use an epifluorescence microscope to manually count the number of bacteria and viruses that are present in my sample. I achieve this by staining the bacteria and viruses with a dye that binds to DNA known as SYBR Green I. Collecting surface seawater off the coast of Catalina Island. (Photo by Yannick Peterhans/WIES) Besides conducting experiments, a huge part of my experience working at Wrigley this summer was being a mentor to my Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Student Taylor Trivino. I trained her in making SYBR microscope slides for her experiments focusing on optimizing this method. I remember being in her shoes as an REU student myself at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory working with Dr. Ajit Subramaniam. This is a full circle moment for me. I greatly appreciate her help with my experiments. I am also thankful for the helpful staff and all of the resources available at Wrigley to make this research possible.