Urchins, Urchins, and More Urchins!

Most people are unfamiliar with the importance of sea urchins to marine ecosystems. known to many as “uni”, these little spiky balls are more than just a tasty seafood dish. Sea urchins are a keystone species, meaning that too many of them and their habitat becomes barren, too few and their predators lose an important food source.
This summer I am doing research in Dr. Gretchen Hofmann’s lab located in the Marine Science Institute. The Hofmann lab aims to study the physiology and performance of marine organisms in response to both present-day environmental conditions and to expected conditions in the future. My specific research project focuses on examining the effects of varying pH and temperature conditions on the early development of the Painted urchin, Lytechinus pictus. Before we get into the nitty gritty details let me give you a little background. Climate change is happening and it’s occurring at a pace faster than we have anticipated. Our ecosystems are dramatically changing and many different species are having to adapt in order to survive. As the ocean absorbs atmospheric carbon dioxide, a series of chemical reactions take place. Consequently the ocean becomes more acidic and the supply of carbonate, a chemical compound that is crucial to the development of many organisms, is diminished. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is also causing temperatures to rise and heat waves to occur at temperatures that are alarming. Many marine organisms including sea urchins are sensitive to these environmental changes and are forced to adapt to these conditions.

My research project will require me to work closely with L. pictus as I explore and manipulate their reproductive process and development. By spawning these urchins in the lab, I play a role much like a puppet master. I pick out my male and female urchins and I determine when the urchin eggs are fertilized. I then place the embryos in manipulated growing environments set up to mimic future predicted climate conditions. While observing the offspring develop into larvae, I can observe whether their environmental conditions had any impact on their growth and if they experience physiological changes that impact their performance. Physiological performance is an important topic to research as we do not know what climate change has in store for these marine organisms.

My research does not limit me to just a lab setting but I also will get to experience being out in the field taking samples. This aspect of my research is very exciting to me because research in the lab and out on the field are so different from one another. In the lab, I get to experience new equipment and observe amazing transformations under a microscope. In the field, I get to see nature and see first-hand the environment I am researching. These experiences I have had in the lab and out in the field have strengthened my passion for marine research. It is only the beginning of the summer but I have had such a great experience thus far and I cannot wait for what is to come.

The Building Block of Every Laboratory: The Kimwipe

I look forward to going into my lab every day. This summer I am working in the Susannah Porter Earth Science Laboratory under post-doctoral researcher, Leigh Anne Riedman, to analyze sponge-like fossils collected from the Australian island of Tasmania. Everyone in the lab is extremely nice and is willing to answer any questions I may have. I’m honored to be a part of the research done in this lab.

Although there are so many great things about my lab, the thing I look forward to the most is using a nice Kimwipe on my fossil sample when I spend long hours looking through the microscope. Now, you must know what I’m talking about. Every lab I’ve stepped foot in is stocked with dozens upon dozens of those beautiful, bright mint green boxes filled with thin, yet durable 1-ply Kimberly-Clark™ Professional Professional Kimtech Science™ Kimwipes™.

I go through approximately twenty Kimwipes a day. While I am an Environmental Studies student and that is no favor to the environment, those tissues are crucial to the work I do in lab every day. The microscope work I do requires something known as oil immersion. This technique is used when using a microscope objective of 63x or 100x as opposed to 20x or 40x. Basically, oil immersion is used for looking at things more zoomed in. The lenses for this objective requires you to immerse the sample you’re looking at in a very thick oil. I place a drop of oil on the area on the slide that I’m looking at and twist the microscope stage until the lens just barely touches the oil. After examining the specimen using this technique, the oil on the slide needs to be wiped off with, you guessed it, a Kimwipe.

Now, the Kimwipe is no ordinary tissue. Unlike a regular Kleenex tissue, the Kimwipe anti-static technology reduces lint and electrostatic discharge. That information was, in fact, provided by the Kimwipe website– I was honestly unsure why they were preferred until I decided to write this. This ensures that I’m looking at important fossils under the microscope rather than larger chunks of fibrous Kleenex.

As you read this blog post, you may be asking yourself, “Why is she writing her blog post about a seemingly meaningless tissue that they sell for eight dollars in the chemistry stockroom?” That, my friend, is an expected question. But, as I was brainstorming topics for this blogpost, I began to think about what holds a laboratory together. It may be the comradery, the dedication, the snack drawer, but I got to thinking that the Kimwipe is truly the foundation of every laboratory. No matter if it’s biology, earth science, or general chemistry, every lab depends on these tissues. The backbone of so much of the groundbreaking research done on campus is a box of these very wipes.

So, I hope the next time you pull a Kimwipe out of the box and wipe off oil, dust or liquids, you think of what that tissue means for your research.

Note: This post is not sponsored by Kimwipes in any way, but I think both myself and my lab mentor are not opposed to it.

The Dangers of Environmental Activism in the Philippines

Environmental violence.

Internet searches of this term produce several, very different definitions: environmental disasters that cause damage to human life and property, the environmental causes of human violence against each other, and the exploitation of humans and the environment. Another definition, one that does not come up in these searches, is the violence against environmental activists by a corporation or a government. This is the subject that UCSB undergraduate, Michelle Sevilla, chose to research under the guidance of Political Science Professor Matto Mildenberger.

To collect data for her research assistantship, which focuses on environmental violence in the Philippines, Sevilla used EJAtlas, an online resource that documents social conflicts surrounding environmental issues around the world. This data set provided detailed testimonies of Filipino/a citizens that had been harmed by corporations or the government because of their activism. This resource is particularly useful because these human rights abuses are often not addressed by the government and not investigated by the police, creating a climate that justifies the violence against these activists.

Sevilla described one of the many violent situations she had to review:

This… eleven year old boy was en route to school with his dad- [who is fighting] for his environmental rights, his indigenous rights to his own land- when he was killed en route to school because he and his father were ambushed… I feel all of those situations very empathetically so it hurts… It’s a profound sadness and weird reduction of people’s complex, tragically ended lives into an Excel sheet.

It is not often that an undergraduate research project is so emotionally taxing, and Sevilla credits the honest communication with Mildenberger that reassured her and encouraged her to move forward with this topic. The next step in her project is to contact environmental organizations in the Philippines to learn more about how the organizations and activists are dealing with these conflicts.

For more information on this subject, you may contact Michelle Sevilla at: michelle.irabon.sevilla@gmail.com