UGA Skidaway Institute develops cutting-edge microbial imaging laboratory

December 7, 2016

A team of researchers from the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography has received a $226,557 grant from the National Science Foundation to acquire state-of-the-art imaging equipment to investigate microorganisms from the tiniest viruses to larger zooplankton. The equipment will be housed in UGA Skidaway Institute’s new Laboratory for Imaging Microbial Ecology, or LIME.

Researcher Elizabeth Harvey leads the research team that also includes UGA Skidaway Institute scientists Julia Diaz, Marc Frischer, James Nelson and James Sanders.

The equipment will improve Skidaway Institute’s capability to conduct field and laboratory experiments by automating many viewing methods.

“Anyone who uses a microscope will tell you that it is both tedious and time consuming,” Harvey said. “This equipment will allow us to enumerate and analyze microbes and other planktonic organisms much faster, and will allow us to do more large-scale projects than we could in the past.”

UGA Skidaway Institute researchers Tina Walters, Marc Frischer and Karrie Bulski practice running zooplankton samples on the FlowCam, a new instrument that is part of LIME.

UGA Skidaway Institute researchers Tina Walters, Marc Frischer and Karrie Bulski practice running zooplankton samples on the FlowCam, a new instrument that is part of LIME.

Much of the equipment will also have imaging capability so researchers will be able to do more detailed measurements on the size and shape of the tiny organisms and how that might relate to the health of an ecosystem.

Marine microbes are an essential component of all marine ecosystems and they play central roles in mediating biogeochemical cycling and food web structure.

“They are the things that drive all other processes in the ocean,” Harvey said. “They play a really important role in the way nutrients, oxygen and carbon are cycled through the ocean. We care a lot about those processes because they impact our climate, fisheries and the ocean’s overall health.”

A sampling of phytoplankton   imaged by the LIME's FlowCam.

A sampling of phytoplankton imaged by the LIME’s FlowCam.

The benefits of LIME will be shared beyond Skidaway Institute’s science team. Harvey envisions it as a regional center for microbial imaging, available to any other researchers who need the capability.

“Anyone is welcome to come here and get trained to use them,” she said. “They just need to contact me and we can make arrangements.”

Some of the equipment is already in place, while other pieces have not been delivered. Harvey anticipates all the equipment being functional by mid-2017.

UGA Skidaway Institute associate professor cited for top research articles

December 2, 2016

University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography associate professor Aron Stubbins is one of just a handful of researchers cited in the journal Limnology and Oceanography for authoring two of the journal’s top scientific papers over the past 60 years.

Skidaway Institute's Aron Stubbins

Skidaway Institute’s Aron Stubbins

Limnology and Oceanography is an official publication of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography and is considered a premier scientific journal. In its recently published 60th anniversary issue, the journal collected and republished the 10 most cited research papers for each of the last six decades. Stubbins authored or co-authored two of those papers, one in 2008 and the other in 2010.

“It came as quite a surprise to see two articles show up on the list,” Stubbins said. “I was at a conference and wasn’t really checking my email when one of my colleagues let me know.”

The journal used the number of times a paper was cited in future studies as the yardstick to determine which papers should be included on the list. It is one commonly used method for measuring the impact of a scientist’s work.

“The list isn’t really about popularity,” Stubbins said. “It’s about usefulness. That people have found some of my work useful over the years is rewarding.”

The 2008 paper was titled “Absorption spectral slopes and slope ratios as indicators of molecular weight, source, and photobleaching of chromophoric dissolved organic matter.” The lead author was John Helms. Stubbins was a co-author along with four other scientists. The research team developed a new method for extracting new information from a relatively common and simple test of the color of dissolved organic matter.

Stubbins was the lead author, along with nine co-authors, of the second paper, “Illuminated darkness: Molecular signatures of Congo River dissolved organic matter and its photochemical alteration as revealed by ultrahigh precision mass spectrometry.” The study examined organic carbon carried to the ocean by the Congo River — after the Amazon, the second largest river in the world in terms of carbon and water flow. The research team studied how sunlight degrades organic material, including which compounds are degraded, which are not and what new compounds are created when sunlight shines on river water.

“His inclusion in this seminal volume is quite an honor for Dr. Stubbins,” UGA Skidaway Institute Interim Director Clark Alexander said. “This recognition validates what we have always known, that he is conducting groundbreaking and meaningful research that is recognized around the world.”

All 60 papers can be found at http://aslopubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/.

 

Fall black gill cruise rolls out new research

November 10, 2016

The University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography entered the fourth year of its black gill research program with a daylong cruise on board the Research Vessel Savannah and the introduction of a new smartphone app that will allow shrimpers to help scientists collect data on the problem.

Led by UGA scientists Marc Frischer, Richard Lee, Kyle Johnsen and Jeb Byers, the black gill study is being conducted in partnership with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and is funded by Georgia Sea Grant.

Black gill is a condition Georgia shrimpers first noticed in the mid-1990s. Many shrimpers have blamed black gill for poor shrimp harvests in recent years, but until Frischer began his study, almost nothing was known about the condition. Now the researchers know black gill is caused by a parasite—a single-cell animal called a ciliate—although the exact type of ciliate is still a mystery.

The October cruise had three goals. The first was simply to collect data and live shrimp for additional experiments.

 

“We were able to collect enough live shrimp in good shape to set up our next experiment,” Frischer said. “We are planning on running another direct mortality study to investigate the relationship between temperature and black gill mortality. This time, instead of comparing ambient temperature to cooler temperatures as we did last spring and summer, we will investigate the effects of warming.”

Researchers Marc Frischer (UGA Skidaway Institute), Brian Fluech and Lisa Gentit (both UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant) examine shrimp for signs of black gill.

Researchers Marc Frischer (UGA Skidaway Institute), Brian Fluech and Lisa Gentit (both UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant) examine shrimp for signs of black gill.

If his hypothesis is correct, Frischer believes researchers would expect that raising fall water temperatures to warmer summer levels in a laboratory setting will induce black gill associated mortality in the shrimp caught in the fall.

Those studies will be compared to those that are being conducted in South Carolina in a slightly different manner. Frischer expects the results should be similar.

“However, as it goes with research, we are expecting surprises,” Frischer continued. “We also collected a good set of samples that will contribute to our understanding of the distribution and impact of black gill.”

A second goal was to introduce and begin field testing a new smartphone application developed by Johnsen. The app is intended to be a tool that will allow shrimp boat captains and recreational shrimpers to assist the researchers by filling some of the holes in the data by documenting the extent of black gill throughout the shrimp season. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources conducts surveys of the shrimp population up and down the coast throughout the year. However, those surveys do not provide the researchers with the rich data set they need to really get an accurate assessment of the black gill problem.

A sample screen shot of the black gill smartphone application.

A sample screen shot of the black gill smartphone application.

“Instead of having just one boat surveying the prevalence of black gill, imagine if we had a dozen, or 50 or a hundred boats all working with us,” Frischer said. “That’s the idea behind this app.”

The fishermen will use the app to document their trawls and report their data to a central database. Using GPS and the camera on their smartphone, they will record the location and images of the shrimp catch, allowing the researchers to see what the shrimpers see. If repeated by many shrimpers throughout the shrimping season, the information would give scientists a much more detailed picture of the prevalence and distribution of black gill.

“The app is complete and available on the app store, but we are still in the testing stages,” Johnsen said. “We want to make sure that it will be robust and as easy to use on a ship as possible before widely deploying it.”

Recruiting, training and coordinating the shrimpers will be the responsibility of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

“I think it should be entirely possible to at least have a small group of captains comfortable and ready to start using it when the 2017 season begins,” Frischer said.

Johnsen is excited about the app for what it can provide to the shrimping and research community, but also the implications it has for using apps to involve communities in general.

“There is still work to be done to improve the usability of these systems,” he said. “But I’m confident that we are going to see an increasing number of these ‘citizen science’ applications going forward.”

The final aim of the cruise was to bring together diverse stakeholders, including fishery managers, shrimpers and scientists, to spend the day together and share ideas.

“This was a good venue for promoting cross-talk among the stakeholder groups,” Frischer said. “I had many good conversations and appreciated the opportunity to provide a few more research updates.”

Georgia DNR's Pat Geer sorts through the marine life caught in a trawl net.

Georgia DNR’s Pat Geer sorts through the marine life caught in a trawl net.

Frischer says he thinks the communication and cooperation among the various stakeholder groups has improved dramatically since the beginning of the study. He recalled that when the study began in 2013, tensions were high. Shrimpers were angry and demanded that something be done to address the problem of black gill. Meanwhile, fishery managers were unclear if black gill was even causing a problem and frustrated that no one could provide them any reliable scientific advice. The research community had not been engaged and given the resources to pursue valid investigations.

“In 2016, we still have black gill. The fishery is still in trouble, but it does feel like we are at least understanding a bit more about the issue,” Frischer said. “Most importantly, it is clear that all of us are now working together.

“My feeling is that the opportunity for us to spend a day like that together helps promote understanding, communication and trust among the shrimpers, managers and researchers.”

3rd annual black gill cruise

October 24, 2016

This year’s black gill research cruise was held on Thursday, October 19. This is the third year UGA Skidaway Institute scientist Marc Frischer has hosted this cruise, designed to both gather data for his ongoing research, but also to bring various stakeholders together on a common cause. We had beautiful weather and a greata cruise.

Chief Scientist Marc Frischer welcomes the science party aboard the cruise.

Chief Scientist Marc Frischer welcomes the science party aboard the cruise.

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Launching the trawl net for the first 15-minute drag.

Launching the trawl net for the first 15-minute drag.

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Sorting the shrimp from the by-catch.

Sorting the shrimp from the by-catch.

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Georgia DNR marine fisheries manager Pat Geer.

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Savannah State grad student Ashleigh Price keeping some of the catch alive for future experiments. .

Savannah State grad student Ashleigh Price keeping some of the catch alive for future experiments. .

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Researchers field testing a new app for tracking black gill.

Researchers field testing a new app for tracking black gill.

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Skidaway Marine Science Day 2016 canceled

October 18, 2016

The University of Georgia’s Skidaway Marine Science Day, scheduled for Oct. 22, has been canceled.

The UGA Aquarium reopened over the weekend, however the Jay Wolf Nature Trail remains closed as crews continue to remove debris brought on by Hurricane Matthew.

Both Clark Alexander, interim director of UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, and Mark Risse, director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, had hoped to reschedule the event, but no other date was available this fall.

“We are upset we are not able to offer this great event this year,” Alexander said. “However, we will be back bigger and stronger in 2017.”

Skidaway Marine Science Day has been an annual event on the Skidaway campus since 2001. The free, family-oriented program is presented jointly by the UGA Skidaway Institute, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

Skidaway Marine Science Day 2016 cancelled for this year

October 14, 2016
Due to complications presented by Hurricane Matthew, Skidaway Marine Science Day, which was originally scheduled for Saturday, October 22, will NOT be presented. Unfortunately, rescheduling the event is not feasible this fall. The event will be back bigger and stronger next year. Meanwhile, the UGA Aquarium will be open with its regular Saturday hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Skidaway Marine Science Day cancelled for October 22

October 13, 2016

Due to complications from Hurricane Matthew, Skidaway Marine Science Day will NOT be presented as scheduled on October 22. It may  be rescheduled. If so, we will post the new date here, on Facebook, the Skidaway Institute Web page and many other places.

UGA Skidaway Institute receives $79,000 gift to support marine research

September 28, 2016

Savannah residents Michelle and Barry Vine presented a gift of $79,000 to the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography to support the institute’s cutting-edge oceanographic research. In recognition of the gift, UGA Skidaway Institute plans to name an observation laboratory in honor of Michelle Vine’s father, Albert Dewitt Smith Jr. The Vines’ gift is the largest monetary donation ever given to UGA Skidaway Institute.

Michelle Vine presents her gift to UGA Skidaway Institute interim director Clark Alexander in front of the soon-to-be-renovated show barn

Michelle Vine presents her gift to UGA Skidaway Institute interim director Clark Alexander in front of the soon-to-be-renovated show barn

“We are pleased to support the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography in its continuous effort to conduct research and protect our coastal environment,” said Michelle Vine. “Every day we enjoy the benefits of living on the coast, and as a community, we should never forget how important Skidaway Institute is to us.”

Vine’s father, Al Smith, was a World War II Marine Corps veteran, and, like his daughter, a UGA graduate.  He worked in industrial relations for General Motors in Doraville, Lockheed in Marietta and Union Camp Corp. in Atlanta and Savannah. For the last 12 years before his death in 1998, he owned Complete Security Systems.

The Albert Dewitt Smith Jr. Observational Laboratory will be located in the soon-to-be-created Center for Hydrology and Marine Processes. Earlier this year, the Georgia General Assembly approved a $3 million appropriation to renovate and repurpose a circa-1947 concrete cattle show barn for laboratory and meeting spaces and as a home for the center. Innovative for its time, the cattle barn was constructed by the Roebling family. The Roeblings established the Modena Plantation in the mid-1930s, and raised black angus cattle and Hampshire hogs before they donated their land to the state in 1967 to create Skidaway Institute.

“We are very grateful to the Vines for their generous gift,” said UGA Skidaway Institute Interim Director Clark Alexander. “This will help support our education and research activities, both here on the coast and around the world.”

“The UGA Skidaway Institute is a division of the University of Georgia, but it also relies heavily on local support,” Vine said. “Please join us by donating online at http://www.skio.uga.edu, and becoming a member of ASI, the Associates of Skidaway Institute.”

Skidaway Marine Science Day scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 22nd

August 30, 2016

An afternoon of activities, tours and talks will make Skidaway Marine Science Day a can’t-miss event for all ages on Saturday, Oct. 22, from noon to 4 p.m. on the University of Georgia Skidaway Island campus, located on the north end of the island. (10 Ocean Science Circle) The campus-wide open house will be presented by the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and NOAA’s Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

The UGA Aquarium, run by Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, will be open to visitors with no admission fee. Aquarium educators will offer visitors an afternoon full of activities, including a hands-on reptile exhibit, behind-the-scenes peeks of the aquarium, fish feedings and microscope investigations. A touch tank exhibit will allow guests of all ages to get up close and personal with common coastal invertebrates such as non-pinching spider crabs, whelks and horseshoe crabs.

Visitors get a close-up look at marine live at the UGA Aquarium.

Visitors get a close-up look at marine live at the UGA Aquarium.

The UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography’s 92-foot ocean-going Research Vessel Savannah will be open for tours and will exhibit science displays. Elsewhere on campus, Skidaway Institute will present a variety of marine science exhibits and hands-on science activities. Skidaway Institute scientists will present a series of short, informal talks and question-and-answer sessions on current scientific and environmental issues.

Tours of UGA Skidaway Institute’s Research Vessel Savannah are a popular activity at Skidaway Marine Science Day.

Tours of UGA Skidaway Institute’s Research Vessel Savannah are a popular activity at Skidaway Marine Science Day.

The UGA Shellfish Laboratory research team will offer behind-the-scenes tours of the Georgia’s oyster hatchery. The hatchery is also a part of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach. It is hoped the oyster hatchery will make the Georgia oyster aquaculture a more durable and sustainable coastal industry.

Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary will demonstrate remotely operated underwater vehicles, a commonly used oceanographic research tool.

Along with the campus organizations, Skidaway Marine Science Day will also include displays, demonstrations and activities from a wide range of non-profit and governmental science, environmental and education groups, such as The Dolphin Project, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and the Savannah Wildlife Refuge.

For the first time, Skidaway Marine Science Day will also feature food trucks from Armstrong State University and the Savannah Food Truck Festival.

All activities at Skidaway Marine Science Day are free. For additional information, call 912-598-2325, or see www.skio.uga.edu.

A video of the 2015 Skidaway Marine Science Day can be seen here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWsvvyz_npQ

 

UGA Skidaway Institute scientists describe their work to federal legislative staffers

August 18, 2016

UGA Skidaway Institute Interim Director Clark Alexander along with researchers Marc Frischer, Dana Savidge and Catherine Edwards are participating in the University of Georgia’s Federal Legislative Retreat today. Alexander provided congressional staffers with an overview of Skidaway Institute.

UGA Skidaway Institute Interim Director Clark Alexander.

UGA Skidaway Institute Interim Director Clark Alexander.

After additional presentations by the UGA Department of Marine Sciences and the UGA Marine Institute, the scientists interacted individually and in small groups with the staffers. Frischer discussed his black gill research and invited the staffers to participate in a blind taste test of shrimp, with and without black gill.

UGA Skidaway Institute professor Dana Savidge.

UGA Skidaway Institute professor Dana Savidge.

Savidge and Edwards described their work with high tech marine research tools, such as Savidge’s work with radar to study ocean currents and Edwards’s research using autonomous underwater vehicles or “gliders.”