China Research


Taking off the training wheels

There finally came a point at which my lab mate/mentor Yanan had to let me fly solo.  Yesterday, my first day of unsupervised lab procedures, was not exactly a success.  In fact, it was pretty embarrassing.  Literally the minute Yanan left the room, the PCR machine broke in my hands.  As I lifted up the handle of the precious machine, a minor combustion occurred.  Bolts, nuts, and other important items flew from the machine! Horrified, I could not believe that this $3000 machine decided that now was the time to self-destruct.  Luckily a lab tech was able to fix the damages.  Although I am convinced that I did not do anything wrong, the lab tech thought I was completely incompetent.  A good start to the day.  Following this debacle was an even better end to the day.  Basically, I forgot a tiny (but crucial) step within a procedure, and ruined my day’s work.  OOPS.

Yes, this was extremely discouraging.  But today I managed to turn things around!  I am sure Yanan was nervous to leave me alone again, but she took a sick leave anyways. Yesterday I messed up while she was just on another floor, how much trouble could I get into with her gone completely?!  Actually, I managed to successfully end the day with no mishaps; and my results turned out very good! In conclusion, lab work can be overwhelming.  Instead of getting upset with me yesterday, Yanan simply said that each mistake equaled a new opportunity to learn.  How insightful. Today I got back on the horse, opened that PCR machine, and showed it who is boss.  I finished today in a good mood.

Good news!! I may have discovered a new sub-species of polychaete.  Laugh if you want, but I am excited.  As I said in my last entry, I needed to go worm collecting in order to start my project.  While buying worms at the bait shop was enjoyable, collecting polychaetes was AWESOME.  Yanan, Holly, and I went by train, bus, and finally boat in order to get to the floating fish farms.  Honestly, nobody could give me a clear answer on what the fish farms actually do- I guess it is a very primative aquaculture system.

The fish-farmer let us collect polychaetes from a marine ecosystem which magically appeared onto the wooden planks we were carefully balanced on.  The rope which the fish-farmer pulled up from the water had attached colorful tunicates, mussels, crabs, brittle stars, and a million other types of moving marine organisms.  That afternoon I spent searching for worms was the most fun I have had in Hong Kong.  When we got back to the lab, I identified the polychaetes through last entry’s procedure.  However, there were some weirdo polychaetes which were not identified in the book.  Luckily, they are in the genus which I am doing my phylogenetic study on.  So my project became about 100x more interesting, because now I am trying to identify if these polychaetes (3 with the same teeth patterns!) are genetically as well as morphologically different from the others in the study.  Even if my results come back indicating that all the subspecies are genetically similar, this is still a significant finding.  The separation of subspecies due to paragnath (teeth) positioning will be irrelevant.  However, I hope there are genetic differences in the subspecies.  I already have big plans for this worm, known around the lab as: Perinereis cultrifera gretchenia (Just kidding.)