Wednesday, June 8, 2016

My experience during the Harvard Field Course - Biology and Evolution of Invertebrates (Part 1) by Maycol Madrid

During my Bachelors career at the University of Panama I’ve been working with plants and marine macro algae.  They have been one of my passions during the last 4 years.

The photo on the right shows a group of filamentous algae on a mangrove prop root. Upper center picture is a green algae called Caulerpa. Bottom center is a cycad coralloid root. On the left is a cycad. 

Starting in December 2015, I had the opportunity to work in the Collin Lab. For me this has been a marvelous opportunity that every single day is enriching my knowledge of marine animals. By January 2016, I received the big news that I would be able to participate into a field trip to Bocas del Toro Research Station as part of a Harvard University course (OEB 51: Biology and Evolution of Invertebrates).  At that moment my mind started to think into the million ways in which I could take advantage of that course and how it could improve me as a professional.

By the first day of my arrive we arrange everything and we get into the field, sadly the first day I forget to put silica gel in my camera housing and my camera get fogged immediately.

During the second day in the field we went to a place that had many mangroves and some sea grass beds.  The huge diversity of organisms that habit in the mangrove prop roots fascinates me.

The third day of the course I forget my camera in the docks so no picture that day.  Oops.

During my work in the lab I read some of the papers by Svetlana Maslakova about nemerteans and I became fascinated by their morphology.  Especially their proboscis and feeding habits.  After reading that they are common in corals rubble, I started a search of for these ribbon worms.  I brought the rubble to the lab to break it with a hammer to see if I could find some worms. But sadly by the end of the week I wasn’t able to fine a single one. Luckily, one of my course mates finally found one so I did see one in the end.

The picture shows some coral rubble in which I searched for nemerteans. 
Stay tuned for PART 2 to see some more beautiful photos of the marine life in Bocas del Toro.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Working in DNA Barcoding - Jaime Morín Lagos

Traditionally, taxonomists used morphological features to identify specimens they find, but using morphological keys hasn’t been enough and often this approach have some limitations. The Barcoding of DNA, in simple words, is a way to identify species based in molecular techniques, they use a short genetic sequence from a standard part of the genome the way a supermarket scanner distinguishes products using the black stripes of the Universal Product Code (UPC).

Using molecular markers is a way to overcome common issues of the morphological identification, for example when you have individuals in larvae stages (often found when sampling), but also is an innovative device for Non-specialists who need to make a quick identification, for example is useful when you want to know if food truly includes the ingredients that they say in a restaurant, specially with seafood because their higher levels of diversity.

The Barcoding of DNA technology also will bring the genetic knowledge to anyone to enjoy including children. For example The International Barcode of Life project (iBOL) is an initiative that aims to create a digital identification system for life, this is really amazing! I like to see this like a real life “Pokedex”

 Here in Collin Lab I work on an exciting project called “Bocas del Toro Barcoding Project”. We have sequences from different kind of specimens of the region (Gorgonians, Coral, Sponges, shrimps, etc) and aim to create and upload to BoLD a database of their barcodes (normally they don’t have previous molecular data). I have been here for almost 3 months helping with the data analysis and evaluation of new sequences to upload to BoLD, and also some bioinformatics analysis. It seems like an easy work (theoretically it should be) but it require patience, concentration, and constantly feedback from the taxonomists to ensure a good and reliable work.

I’m really learning so much and I’m gaining experience in this field and I’m happy for that, I hope the work made here will be useful in future projects. For example, now I’m working in a Meta-barcoding project, in collaboration with Kristin Saltonstall, where they aim to use the information that we have been uploading to BoLD for the identification of larvae samples from Panama City and Bocas del Toro. I’m currently working in the molecular part (Extraction of DNA, PCR, Sequencing) so maybe I will write another post in the next weeks. Thanks for read this one - May All Your Blanks stay Blank!

Jaime Morín Lagos
Bachelor Science in Genetics and Biotechnology 
National University of San Marcos (PERU)


Andrea Galimberti, Fabrizio De Mattia, Alessia Losa, Ilaria Bruni, Silvia Federici, Maurizio Casiraghi, Stefano Martellos, Massimo Labra. DNA barcoding as a new tool for food traceability. Food Research International. Volume 50, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 55–63