Monday, September 14, 2009

My Start in Marine Biology

Mary and I have been in Florida for over a month, and it's about time that I talked about why we came down in the first place. I started graduate school for biological oceanography at the University of South Florida. In other words, marine biology, sans dolphins.

This is the main building of the marine science campus in St. Petersburg. It houses mostly labs, consisting of biological, chemical, physical, and geological focuses. One of the things that make the USF marine science school so successful is its cooperation between subjects and other research institutes in the area, like the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO) and Fish and Wildlife Services.

Side Note: An airport is right next to this building, and it's unnerving to be walking down the sidewalk when a plane flies by 10 meters above your head.

Before I get into the nerdy science stuff, first, I have a quick slide show.


Here's a shot of my drive to work. Notice the ocean on both sides. This is a strange experience to see this everyday, especially coming from living in Tennessee all my life. As strange as it is, I can't express how good it feels to be finally be studying my dream. Grad school is worth it just to be able to study exactly what you're passionate about, and its reinvigorates me every time I see this view every morning.


This is the building where my lab is.


Here's a shot from the top floor of the research building. Our school is nestled in a harbor in St. Pete, right next to the US Coast Guard, US Geological Survey, US Wildlife and Fisheries, and a few other oceanography insitutions. Like I said earlier, there's a lot of collaboration between research groups around here. And the coast guard is useful when we fall in the water.


Did I mention there's sailboats? I recently got certified to take these babies out. By the time anyone visits, I'll be certified to take out the larger keel-boats in the background of that picture.
And don't worry, the Coast Guard is close by, so you'll probably be safe.

And now, for the nerdy science stuff. Dont' say I didn't warn you.

Our lab focuses on identifying viruses from different sources, from sea turtles and seawater, to more urban sources. A big problem with identifying microbes (bacteria, viruses, etc) is that to fully identify one, you have to be able to grow it in the lab. Unfortunately, only about 1-10% of the microbial population is able to be grown in the lab.

Let's look at the numbers. It is estimated that there are five million trillion trillion (5x10^30) prokaryotes on earth today. More than 85% of this population is currently ungrowable in the lab, and therefore we know NOTHING about them, and how many there could be. And this is only once branch of the microbial population.

You can see the problem here. Our lab focuses on methods that will be able to indentify viruses without ever having to grow them - to use the actual term, metagenomics. In simple terms, we look at the fingerprints left behind by viruses. While we can't really use this data to figure out EVERYTHING about the little guys, it's a necessary, big step in the right direction.

If you're bored, here's our lab's website. If it's any consolation, I think there's some pictures of sea turtles on there, WHICH WE ARE SAVING. Awesome.

Alright, that's all for now. Thanks for keeping up with us down here, and know that we miss all you guys! Call us sometime! Come visit!

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