A Day in the Life: Humming Fish in Cape Cod

Hello! I’m Ally Siegel, a rising senior at Gettysburg College. Unlike most of the Gettysburg researchers I am spending the entire summer away from campus in Cape Cod. I could not imagine a better place to do research for the summer. There are countless beautiful beaches, sunsets, lighthouses, bike paths, and amazing 75 degree weather days. Amid all of these tourist attractions a scientific community thrives at the Marine Biological Laboratory. Over 300 scientists travel to this institution from all around the world during summers for their research. In my lab alone, the Grass Laboratory, there are 10 different graduate students and post-docs, each conducting their own individual experiments. This leads to an exciting and unique environment for collaboration and learning about different areas of research.

nobska lighthouse

Nobska lighthouse, just a short bike ride from the MBL campus

A typical day in Woods Hole starts at 8am when I check on the midshipman fish we are working with. Their tanks are in the Marine Resources Center, where most of the researchers keep their animals. This makes the building like a mini aquarium including bamboo shark, cuttlefish, squid, and octopus. The male midshipman we study vocalize, humming at night to attract females. To study this behavior we day-night reverse them so that their tanks are dark from 8am to 4pm. At 8am I also turn on a hydrophone that we use to record the fish humming.

Midshipman fish

Midshipman fish

The enclosure around the midshipman tanks used to keep their light exposure to a minimum from 8am to 4pm

The enclosure around the midshipman tanks used to keep their light exposure to a minimum from 8am to 4pm

After that I head to breakfast in Swope, the cafeteria on campus. The tables here overlook a beautiful pond filled with sail boats and even houseboats.

eel pond

Scenic Eel Pond

After breakfast I head to lab where I usually work on my project, trying to map the brain areas involved in humming. To accomplish this we use an antibody that will bind to pS6, a phosphorylated protein only present in electrically active cells. We collect brains from fish determined to be humming or not humming (as controls). Midshipman brains are just a few centimeters long. While frozen we cut them into over two hundred thin sections that are reacted with the pS6 antibody tagged with a green fluorescent marker. Then we can use a microscope the see where the antibody is within the section, showing which regions are active in humming versus non-humming fish.

Staining shown in nerve cells in the vocal motor nucleus and vocal pacemaker nucleus of a humming midshipman

Staining shown in nerve cells in the vocal motor nucleus and vocal pacemaker nucleus of a humming midshipman

After work the science doesn’t end! Most labs and courses at the MBL host a lecturer weekly, making different talks available to the MBL community everyday. Aside from attending lectures, the evenings are a perfect time to explore the many beaches!

A sunset from Nobska beach

A sunset from Nobska beach

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