Saturday, September 27, 2008

Last month I dissected nearly 300 copepods that had been in the freezer since June. Freezing specimens is great because it allows you to procrastinate and put off data collection until you have nothing to do (which of course never really happens). So, I spent a whole week sitting at a microscope, which of course was not easy on my back. I have convinced myself that the ordeal was worthwhile, though I am not yet sure if the data is that spectacular (at least spectacular enough for the effort of dissecting 900 copepods). Main result: a lot of worms can share a single adult copepod and not increase the risk of host death or suffer from reduced growth rates. This is interesting because it suggests that the worm is exploiting its host well below a “risky” level. I suspect that the worms do this to enlarge their host range (so they can infect both small and big hosts), but I cannot rule out the possibility that they do it to reduce their developmental time and thus be transmitted earlier before their hosts die a natural (not parasite-induced) death. Perhaps I need a mathematical model to separate these two hypotheses. Lately, I also collected some cool data on tapeworm growth in copepods. There appears to be genetically based variation in worm growth, which is hard to explain. If there is directional selection on growth, i.e. faster is always better, then there should not be much variation at all because selection should have “picked” the best genotypes. I am still working hard trying to get at the potential costs associated with parasite growth rates. This is probably gonna be the first manuscript I produce from my work here, but I am still testing some alternative hypotheses. Excited to get the data. Yeah, sometimes science is exciting, at least for those doing it.

Onto something of more general interest, or perhaps not. Rock. The last three CDs I bought were all electronic-oriented: Mindless Self Indulgence, Ladytron, and the Japanese Popstars. Mindless Self Indulgence is one of my favourite bands. As a teenager, I saw them open up for Korn and remember thinking ‘what a stupid band’. When my musical tastes widened in college, I downloaded (those were the lawless Napster days) their first album (30 tracks arranged in alphabetical order). I and several of my friends were hooked for life. Ladytron is an indie electro band from England. ‘Destroy everything you touch’ was their hit, and their new album is full of similarly catchy melodies. Finally, the Japanese Popstars was an impulse buy in Dublin. They are an Irish band (which makes their name confusing) that is straight electronic, yet with funky enough beats to keep them out of the ‘techno’ bin. After all this electronic kick, I thought to myself ‘man, don’t forget about the guitars’. Therefore, I ordered some pure rock/metal albums to stay true to the musical roots. They are the latest from Slipknot and Every Time I Die, as well as the debut album from Scars on Broadway. The strange thing is that from all these albums, I had listened to about one song from each. I never used to buy an album before listening to at least half the songs, usually via downloading. Perhaps I have gotten too lazy or scared to download music, or perhaps I just started spending money more freely since I finished my PhD. Weird…I have not given up the student lifestyle altogether (I still eat a lot of frozen pizza and live in a cramped little apartment with crappy furniture), but more and more I realize that I have an adult lifestyle. Perhaps maturity is something inevitable. I just hope that I don’t start enjoying music considered ‘oldies’, ‘classics’, or ‘easy-listening’.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I spent last week in Norway on "business". Actually, it was the most holiday-like business trip I ever took, as promised by my colleague. We went there to catch sticklebacks infected with a particular tapeworm (Schistocephalus). People here have been working with this parasite for several years, and it is my duty to carry on that research. Unfortunately, the worm seems quite rare in N. Germany, though all the necessary hosts occur in adequate abundance. So, instead of catching several thousand fish to find a few German worms, we went fishing in Norway. We visited a colleague of ours in Bergen. He has consistently found a high prevalence of infected sticklebacks in several freshwater lakes in W. Norway. Apparently it was a good year for worms, because it was actually difficult to find uninfected fish. The worms grow extremely large relative to their hosts, and they cause fish to have highly distended abdomens, so the infected fish can be clearly recognized. Such a virulent growth strategy probably helps the parasite get to its bird final hosts. We managed to smuggle about 300 fish back to Germany, at least half of which were infected. Next week we'll begin the big dissections. The fishing was made even more enjoyable by the scenary around he field site (pictured). In W. Norway, the mountains meet the sea, a lanscape which usually leads to a lot of rain. But we had nothing but sunshine for 4 straight days. Yep, very holiday-like indeed.