Field Work in the Bofedales

Note: This guest post was co-authored by Brandon Byrd ’18 and Alex Fazioli ’19

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Alex Fazioli ’19 and Brandon Byrd ’18

A large part of our research in Professor Fennessy’s lab has been spent behind a computer screen analyzing gas samples from the ‘Bofedales’ or high-altitude peatlands in Peru and high-latitude peatlands in Alaska. When Alex Fazioli and I were given the opportunity to travel down to Peru and into the Andes, it wasn’t something that Alex and I were going to pass up.

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It took three days of travel to get to the Andes and our field sites. When we got to our lodge in Ocangate, we both were in awe of the backdrop of the mountains where we would do field work for the next couple of days. The dramatic landscape changes in Peru made for seemingly endless number picture opportunities. The sites where we did our work were situated below a glacier that feeds a stream that runs for about 3 miles through the wetland and empties in a lake.

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The goal of our trip was to characterize the carbon budget of the Bofedales through sampling for gas emission, soil coring, and measurements of the plant communities and peat depth. Our lab was specifically tasked with collecting gas samples for greenhouse gas analysis. For the trip, we needed to bring specialized gas chambers, vials, and other materials to properly collect gas samples from each site we visited.

The Bofedales are inhabited by locals who herd Alpacas and farm potatoes and other crops. The locals were extremely interested in everything we were doing and would follow us around as we did our work in the peatland. The terrain around the peatlands, while beautiful, was extremely rough, especially when hiking with 50 pounds of equipment. Furthermore, navigating the terrain often required hopping from one cushion of vegetation to the next which became a surprisingly fun but tiresome game.

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Overall, our experience in Peru was thrilling. When in the Bofedales, it is difficult to overlook the large scale of these ecosystems. These peatlands are breathtakingly beautiful! Currently, we are aiming to contribute to the literature to help characterize the relatively understudied Bofedales and their ecosystem services. Generally, we would recommend any research student to take an opportunity to pursue field work related to their project. It can take them to amazing places and help them gain invaluable experiences.

Avoid the flu. Catch the feels.

It’s that time of year again. Some (many) of us are sick, some of us are lovesick, some of us are watching Lovesick, and some of us are sick of love. Happy Valentine’s Day!

I asked members of the Biology Department for Valentine card submissions related to their biological interests/areas of study. It’s up to you to figure out who wrote them!

Send an email to kenyonbiology@gmail.com with your guesses. Get them all right and you could win candy!

Check out our instagram (@kenyonbiology) for hints throughout the day of the 14th. Answers come out February 14th at 10 PM, so get your guesses in before then!

valentinetreehugger

#1

tempsensitive

#2

valentine

#3. photo by Amit Mogha

CrabValentine

#4

PandaValentine

#5

Crossbillvalentine

#7

lichen

Bonus – Can you guess which professor took a lichen to this cartoon?

KSTEM’s Course Registration Tips

It’s that time of year again where clicking, typing, and being a human at 11:15AM has never seemed more stressful. That’s right: it’s course registration. I asked KSTEM president Rachel Arens to gather the best registration tips around.

Note: The following is a guest post from KSTEM, a club on campus with a mission to develop a strong and supportive scientific community. Email stem@kenyon.edu for more information!

  1. Register in the science quad with as few people as possible! Registration works smoothly if there aren’t many people per router.
  2. Make sure you have at least two classes that you are genuinely excited about.
  3. If there’s one class that you really need/want and is difficult to get into just put that class in first and hit submit; you don’t have to waste time filling up the slots before you hit submit the first time!
  4. Make an excel sheet or Google Sheet so you can copy and paste!
  5. Minimize your windows so they’re side by side and you don’t have to click between
  6. Tell Duo NOT to remember you for 10 hours so it’s easier to log in and log out.
  7. If there’s a popular class you really want, email the professor ahead of time asking to be in the class/put on the waitlist!
  8. IT’S ALL GOING TO WORK OUT! Don’t panic! Everything will be ok.

Know Before You Go – Metagenomics Edition

Today (yes, October 12th!) at 4 PM, Dr. Heidi Andersen from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center will be presenting her bioinformatics research. Computational genomics is a rapidly advancing field that uses and develops software to detect patterns in biomolecules like DNA, RNA, and proteins. Our guts host many different bacterial species, and Dr. Andersen pieces together their DNA sequences to determine which are present. She is especially interested in tracking the microbes that are multi-drug resistant (those that survive many of the antibiotics we throw at them) across pediatric patients in the hospital. 

A quick brush up on some computational biology vocab before the presentation never hurts:

Metagenomics – the study of the many genomes present in a given environmental sample

Microbiome – the community of microbes in a given environment

Shotgun sequencing – a method of determining the order of nucleotides (A, C, T, G) in a given DNA sequence by breaking it into short fragments, sequencing these, then piecing them back together computationally

Contiguous sequence (“Contig”) – After sequencing the separate DNA fragments in shotgun sequencing, we need to assemble them back together for a longer, more complete sequence (a contig)

16S rRNA gene (“16S”) – a ribosomal RNA gene that is used to identify bacteria and archaea at the genus level

Extra credit – Understanding PCA
If you want to know all the gory details of Principal Component Analysis, a method you will see often in computational biology, check out this post here

 

The Very Hungry Hornworms

This week, intro bio lab students geared up for their Manduca sexta dissection. These tobacco hornworms had grown significantly since students placed them in their plastic “bachelor pad” cages last week. While all hornworms at least doubled in size, the largest of the group were almost 100 times their weight from last week. Thank goodness that’s pretty impossible for humans to do or Kenyon would need to invest in a better health plan now that Marco’s Pizza accepts K-Cards.

Hornworm fact #1: Time to expand your insult dictionary – the genus Manduca literally means glutton. Try that one at Thanksgiving.

Hornworm fact #2: After a good chomp on a tobacco leaf, Manduca have “toxic halitosis” aka poisonous bad breath from the nicotine which deters spiders from eating them.

Hornworm fact #3: Adult Manduca hawkmoths can eavesdrop on the sonar clicks of bats and drop out of the air to avoid being bat food.

If you know the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, the life of a Manduca is quite similar. Rather than eating sausages and ice cream turning into a beautiful butterfly, though, Manduca hornworms eat the leaves of tobacco, tomatoes and other members of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), then metamorphose into a hawkmoth that can hover like a hummingbird. Reared in the lab, however, the Manduca is a beloved model organism with ease of care, rapid growth rate, and accessible anatomy.

This year, the bio lab sections are testing the effect of diet nutrition on overall growth of the organism. Some Manduca will have less nutrition per bite in their food for 48 hours, perhaps affecting how much they eat, absorb nutrients, or grow in a 48 hour period. After this diet change, students hit the microscopes to investigate.

Whether they named their Manduca after their TA (shoutout to Jeremy Moore ’19), took beautiful anatomical pictures under the microscope (see above), or made a video in their hornworm’s honor like Patrick Olmstead ’21 (below), students found a way to connect with their lab-reared pe(s)ts.