The life and times of the snail lab and its friends
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A DAY IN THE LIFE OF THE SNAIL LAB:
In the morning, the members of the Snail Lab arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to head off to a new collecting site in their hip waders and stylish hat collection, to bring back new members of a snail or tadpole population to perform research on.
The lab’s main focus is on the effects of pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and industrial chemicals on freshwater and marine benthic invertebrate communities, particularly on the freshwater snails Physella gyrina, the marine mud snail, Ilyanassa obsoleta, and several species of frog tadpole–including Wood Frogs and Bullfrogs.
As the use of pharmaceuticals rapidly increases throughout the world, there is a consequent increase in the concentrations of these chemicals being flushed into waterways and surrounding wetlands. These chemicals can have serious effects on the populations in the affected bodies of water, and the work done in Dr. Fong’s lab hopes to highlight these impacts on aquatic ecology. Previous research students have found that exposure to certain antidepressants resulted in a significant effect on snail locomotion, foot detachment, and righting behavior. Experiments conducted this summer work to continue the advances Dr. Fong’s lab has already made studying snail righting and antidepressant exposure; however, the extent to which pharmaceuticals affect these vital snail behaviors in nature remains relatively unknown. Beginning last summer, Dr. Fong decided to bring the field of aquatic toxicology out to the field, with confounding results. This summer, the snail lab will conduct experiments at Marsh Creek and Willoughby Run looking at the effects on snail righting using the antidepressant Prozac. Due to the difficulties associated with testing chemical exposure to organisms in natural environments, these experiments will be some of the first of their kind undertaken, and mark an important step in the application of aquatic toxicology research.
ENROUTE TO SUCCESS
A vital part of the Snail Lab’s research is the field work that allows them to gather plentiful specimen to test on. The first week of the program, they headed off on the 4-hour trek to Lewes, Delaware to collect Ilyanassa obsoleta, or mud snails, of the same population as previously studied by veteran members of the Snail Lab. The breakwater location that the lab set their sights on is a beautiful rock jetty on coastal Delaware where at low tide the mud snails in question can be scooped up by the handful. These snails will later be used to continue an ongoing experiment to understand the effects of antidepressants on righting behavior of marine snails. On this particular trip the Snail Lab collected an approximate total of 3-bags-full of the mud snails that would be kept with love and affection in the water table in McCreary 212. Although these trips are a blast-and-a-half, the importance of collecting specimen directly from their habitats is well imparted on the researchers in order to minimize the impact on natural behavior of the snails when in their new laboratory home.
Besides snails, the invertebrate lab also performs studies on tadpoles. Highly sensitive to chemical pollutants in their infantile stages, frog tadpoles make an ideal organism to study the effects of environmental toxicants on development. So far, research students in Dr. Fong’s lab have found significant data on the interaction between the antifouling chemical Medetomidine and tadpole development, specifically in Wood Frogs and Bullfrogs.
Previous experiments have found that this chemical, already used in Asia, and soon to be used in Europe, in paints on the underside of boats, barges, and piers, as well as a popular veterinary anesthetic, decreased tadpole growth in both species of frog. Work conducted this summer has already found a significant and detrimental effect on tadpole development in Wood Frogs with continuous two-week exposure to Medetomidine. Future studies will look at a similar effects in bullfrogs. It’s sure to be a hoppining time.
UNDERSTANDING THE SNAIL LAB: A GLOSSARY OF LINGO
Antifouling chemical– a substance, like Medetomidine, that is used on aquatic hard substrates, like ship hulls or piers, to prevent the attachment of marine organisms like barnacles that could cause potential harm
Aquatic toxicology- the study of toxicants, chemical pollutants, and their effects on aquatic organisms and ecosystems
Ilyanassa obsoleta– found along the East Coast, these small brown mud snails reside in saltwater mud flats and intertidal areas such as the breakwaters in Lewes, Delaware, where our specimens were collected
Physella gyrina- also known by its nickname “Physa,” this petite left-handed snail is commonly found in freshwater areas across the United States and Canada, including spring at the former golf course in Gettysburg, from which ours originated
Righting– the action of an inverted snail returning to its normal position of orifice-side down, with foot attachment
SnailStagram– an Instagram account devoted to our favorite friend, the snail, and their subsequent friends
Tadpole– also called pollywogs. In amphibians, the aquatic larval stage in which the immature organism has gills and a tail. During metamorphosis, tadpoles grow the traits of adult organisms, such as limbs
THIS IS US
Julia Palmucci as seen by Olivia Lambert
Upcoming junior on track to be the next Biology Major *STAR* Find her every Sunday morning taking eager advantage of the five-fingered employee discount at her early morning shift at The Commons! Never without her trusty cup of joe, Julia’s energy is electric as she brings her love of all animals and *NSYNC to the Snail Lab this summer. A veteran of the Philadelphia Zoo internship program, PLA in Dr. Fong’s Bio 112 Lab,
passionate dog-owner, and daughter of a fisherman, Julia has had ample opportunity to fine-tune her love of animals. Being a favorite topic of Biology professors throughout the department, Julia’s impact in the Bio program here at Gettysburg College is profound, if not revolutionary, already. Favorite pastimes include steaming quinoa in her Civil War House bedroom, maintaining her high-stakes place on the US Presidents Quiz-Up leaderboard, instituting puns into a witty banter, and dancing her little heart out in the incredibly talented GBurg institution, BOMB Squad. Julia hopes to graduate from the HHMI program with a newfound love for aquatic inverts and a growing friend in her new pet frog and reeducate the world on the cultural Mecca that is New Jersey.
Olivia Lambert as seen by Julia Palmucci
Olivia is a rising sophomore and budding epidemiologist. Coming from a long line of intellectually gifted individuals, including her father, a fellow “snail-guy”, Olivia found herself right at home undertaking research in Dr. Fong’s lab during her first semester of college. Since then, the talented student has found her stride and excelled within the Biology Department. Outside of her pursuits in the field of science, Olivia has that special je-ne-sais-quoi that has allowed her to tackle a French minor while balancing the demanding schedule of the College Choir. When not practicing French in McKnight or showing off her vocal prowess in Schmucker, Olivia can be found having a tête-à-tête with Dr. Parker of the Chemistry Department. Olivia has been a wonderful member of the snail lab, sharing her love of 90’s teen sensations, imparting her vast knowledge of herbs and spices onto her uneducated peers, and creating the highly popular SnailStagram. By the end of the summer, Olivia hopes to head back to her beloved home state of New Hampshire standing as tall as the Old Man of the Mountain once did, with a treasure trove of knowledge in the field of aquatic toxicology and a new baby frog.
A pioneer in aquatic toxicology and dog enthusiast, Dr. Fong and his trusty golden retriever sidekick, Messi, enjoy frequenting small local Mexican restaurants (shout out to Tanya’s), casting a line at his top-secret fishing hot-spots, and avoiding mowing the lawn.