Unbowed, unbent, unbroken…but slightly deflated


A beautiful morning, washing away the disappointment.

A beautiful morning, washing away the disappointment.

The title comes from the words of House Martell of The Song of Ice and Fire books. They have a nice ring to them, and it was a nerdy way to console myself when last weekend I arrived to the buoy of my plastic sampling system, just to find the set of cages gone.

Of course this is not new for me. Experiments have a way to go wrong for many reasons besides human error. I was warned by several of my friends who have done environmental sampling that there was always a risk for people tampering with them. My other concern were the surf and the waves, but after one week the system looked robust, so I stopped worrying. Big mistake.

So we paddled back after I dipped my tubes in the water to at least have a set of water samples. Calls and visits to lifeguard and water authorities did not brought any information, so I had to accept that my cages (and several weeks of preparation) were gone.

Life goes on. New cages have been ordered, and I am in the lookout of other, less visible location. To be honest, I prefer to tackle this problem to cell lines contaminated with Mycoplasma. But still…

Yes it has been a busy year! Some updates.

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Me on the boat deploying the plastic samples in Doheny State Beach.

What happened after February? Well, a bunch of things. Some of them I mentioned in my older blog postings, and it is nice to know that they have been moving forward over the past months.

  • In a past posting I mentioned number crunching regarding a general biology class redesign’s evaluation. The manuscript was submitted to a minor journal a couple of weeks ago. It is not a Nature level paper, but it has numbers and statistics and some interesting results.
  • I also mentioned applying for a program. I was accepted to ASM’s 2015 Biology Scholar Research Residency, and spent some  days in July at the ASM headquarters in DC with a group of like-minded amazing education researchers.
  • What I brought to the Residency was a flipped classroom project I have been working on with a colleague. She and I recorded lectures, played with Camtasia and Doceri, and did some numbercrunching too. After the residency, we added qualitative methods to the mix.
  • The Small World Initiative is going strong. In June I coordinated the yearly training at our campus, and had both amazing training companions as well as a group of enthusiastic new partners. In July, changes took place in their leadership, and now we are moving towards a broader implementation both geographically and educationally, while setting up the stage to follow up on all those antibiotic producers.
  • I dived heads-on into using metagenomics. At the end of last year I received a small internal grant for a collaborative project to study what kind of microbes attach to plastic bags in the ocean. The experiments using a homemade setup yielded reproducible quality DNA and metagenomic data, and now we are in the process of evaluating the system in the open ocean. The project has taken me to metal shops, lobster trap companies, marine supply stores, and harbor police officers, as well as to fruitful discussions with Scripps Oceanography scientists and metagenomic experts. Just last week I held a small talk about the project. It is fun. I just wish I knew more bioinformatics.
  • I attended the GCAT-SEEK workshop in the summer as the wingman for our bioinformatics expert. While she was on page 30 of the tutorial creating some amazing 3D graphs I was still struggling with the Linux commands. I still learned tons! It is a great opportunity.

So yes, seems like we are getting to the reaping the harvest part, finally. Of course nothing is really ever completed, but it is nice to see results, and also some sort of conclusions.

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