June 03, 2008

Things That Make a Science Geek Happy

Yes, I said it. I'm a science geek. I embrace that term and make it my own. So there.

A few things have happened lately that have made this science geek particularly happy. I suppose they're all little things in the grand scheme of things, but as I've mentioned before it's the additive property of all these little things that ultimately matters.

The first of these is the creation yesterday of a "dirty lab" in which I can do the non-molecular aspects of my research. Most of my colleagues are doing exclusively molecular work with a bit of fungal culturing as necessary. My own work involves a good deal of basic natural history. There's the morphometric aspect, of course, and this includes a good number of dissections of both Tenebrionidae and polyporoid fungi. That kind of work is exactly the wrong thing to carry out in a lab dedicated to DNA sequencing, RT-PCR and the like. Fungal spores wind up contaminating everything and there's always the risk of tiny arthropods getting loose, too. The new dirty lab, which I started setting up yesterday, gives me one place to put all of my resources. Up until now, I've had to utilize little bits of spare space. I was keeping specimens at my desk in the graduate office on the third floor of our building and then using the microscopes and such in a teaching lab on the first floor where I also housed my dehydrator. Now I can have everything in one place at last. It's nice to have my equipment, books and specimens all housed in one room.

What's also kind of historically cool about this new lab is that it's the same one in which Vernon Ahmadjian did much of his work on symbiosis. Until yesterday, the lab was being used to house equipment for experiments on sticklebacks. Now it's back to being used for the study of fungus-related symbiosis. Ahmadjian's collections are still stored there, too.

Second, I've connected with someone else locally who's also studying polypores. She's a grad student at Harvard and also a fellow former Californian. In fact, we first met at a fungus fair in Oakland seven years ago. She's studying a very different aspect of the fungi than I am; her work, still in the process of being defined, involves diversity and community structure. We'll be exchanging knowledge and specimens. The conditions of my agreement with Massachusetts DCR also stipulate that she can work at my study sites under the permit granted me, so we'll be doing some collecting together, too. It's nice to know I'm not the only polypore researcher in the neighborhood.

Finally, I came across a really interesting review paper recently. I mean really really interesting:

Leschen RAB. 1994. Ecological and behavioral correlates among mycophagous Coleoptera. Folia Entomologica Mexicana 92:9-19.
The review is heavy on Staphylinidae and only includes a single teneb (Bolitotherus cornutus), but it notes a good deal of evidence for subsocial behavior in beetles that inhabit durable polypores that isn't present in those beetles that only feed on ephemeral fungi. Subsocial behavior is complex and generally takes a long time to develop and that in turn speaks to a long and profound evolutionary relationship. It's the sort of thing that lends evidence for the core hypotheses of my own research. There's so little out there on the fungus-dependent tenebs that it's exciting to come across clues like this.

Like I said, I embrace "science geek." It's the little things.

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