While many of you are Oregon Sea Grant Scholars, I depart slightly from that definition. My fellow intern Josh Scacco and I are PROMISE summer interns, stationed at Oregon State University, and more importantly, at Oregon Sea Grant Extension located on campus. Some information on the PROMISE program can be found here:
We’re still in the process of finding our role here, but it could be anything from teaching kids to helping research invasive species issues. This week was my first, and I’ve been navigating the jungles (or should I say waters?) of information regarding what Sea Grant is and what it does.
My background is mostly journalistic. While I’m going into my senior year at OSU for a degree in zoology, I’m hugely interested in science communication and writing. I’m hoping to use my experiences as a science writer to effectively communicate science and ecological concepts here at Oregon Sea Grant.
So what have I learned this week?
They are bad. Okay, so that may be oversimplifying things a bit. North America is overrun with an astonishing number of invasive species! An estimated 50,000 invasive species are in the United States alone, which amounts to countless incidences of ecological damage across the country. Josh and I journeyed to Vancouver, WA yesterday and we were privileged to sit in on the 100th Meridian Initiative Columbia River Basin Team’s meeting regarding aquatic invasive species. While many topics were discussed, I was especially interested in researcher Andy Ray’s concept of Environmental DNA, a form of genetic information that may help researchers detect aquatic invasive species early on. Early detection is particularly important in controlling unwanted invaders. Strangely, the key may be found in… feces. There’s a point to this, I promise.
Organisms shed a lot of DNA. Just as we lose hair or fingernails, animals living in the water slough off dead skin or excrete waste into the water, which can float around for up to a week. By sampling water content (and I’m greatly oversimplifying this), researchers can use DNA amplification techniques via PCR to determine which species exist in the body of water they sampled. Ultimately, through routine water checks (much like regular cancer screenings), this method could result in the early detection of invasive species. It’s a great alternative to the current method of waiting to find an actual specimen (a sort of “needle-in-a-haystack” scenario), at which point the species may already have proliferated. While still being researched, all of this is on the brink of scientific knowledge, and I was excited to learn about this cutting-edge science.
Sea Grant Is Busy!
I’m amazed by the breadth of issues that Oregon Sea Grant deals with on a daily basis. From what we work on here at the Oregon Sea Grant Extension office – invasive species, watershed health, education, outreach, ecological research – to subjects including ocean health, tsunami preparedness, renewable energy, and salmon, this program has got it all. You definitely have to be a multitasker to work here. Thinking back on all the different things I did on my first day (including looking at modeling kits that exemplify how the water cycle works, tackling a bunch of Quizdom remotes that we might use to teach kids about invasive species, doing a training program that will certify me in case I need to conduct research involving human participants), it’s clear to me that I won’t be able to categorize my experience here into one neat box. The opportunities are seemingly limitless.
The Importance of Community
Oregon Sea Grant is certainly not a one-man show. In this first week alone, I’ve seen so much dizzying collaboration, networking and brainstorming – a complex web of interaction! It takes the cooperation of all these people – scientists, writers, coordinators, planners – to bring about the change and improvement that Oregon Sea Grant is hoping to accomplish. One of my assignments as an intern is to work with Josh by helping develop Oregon Sea Grant’s booth at the da Vinci Days Festival in Corvallis this summer. The theme is Connectivity, and it seems appropriate, since everyone here at Oregon Sea Grant is so inseparably connected as a team. I’m really lucky to be part of this team for the rest of my internship and I hope I can do my part in contributing to the world that is Oregon Sea Grant.
eDNA is a cool tool that could use more public attention – any plans to develop a piece that focuses specifically on this technique?
Also, is there a link to the PROMISE program that you can include, or some background info you might share?
I would love to write about eDNA. The challenge is finding a venue of publication, but if you have any ideas, let me know!
And yes, I’ll find a link to the PROMISE webpage. Can we edit our blog posts once we’ve published them? I guess I will find out!
The forensics of detecting for invasive species presence and their vectors is critical for detection, management and education. The case of the silver carp is the Great Lakes is one example. On the other hand; a method is only as good as the quality control and assurance. One example of of yet more work needed on DNA detection methods is tye variability we are seeing on detecting the presence of zebra aqnd quagga mussels out west.
An article for teachers and decision makers describing some of the successes and uncertainties of DNA testing for invasive species would be very useful. Let’s discuss!
That’s a great idea, Sam! An article in a widely accessible forum discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the eDNA technique would be very useful.
Sounds like a perfect project for me! I’d be happy to start with some interviews and research if you think an article on the topic would be valuable.