a symposium and a sendoff

This week all hands were on deck before they were waving goodbye. We rescued the magnolias from their submerged states only to have some unlucky individuals meet an unpleasant fate. A full day of waterlogging project madness was followed by a symposium full of happy future scientists. Before sending off the REU students to chase their dreams and change the world, we all had the great opportunity of learning and listening as they presented the findings of their research this summer. I was lucky enough to get to join in and present as well. We ended the week with a farewell party hosted by the Root Lab featuring pizzas cooked over the fire, a little bit of bocce, and a side of durian. Keep reading to find out more about the above and some emerging updates on our little lab pets.

Recorded photosynthesis measurements, traced, imaged, counted leaves, and harvested magnolias

The entire Root Lab was recruited for a big harvest day as we took the magnolias out of the pools. The same protocols that were explained in previous blog posts were used, but the collection of root tissue was a little different this time because we had multiple age classes of roots (see to the right). By looking at the colors on the traced windows, we are able to separate old and new roots when harvesting. Then we store them in separate falcon tubes labeled “old” and “new.” Easy peasy!

We used red to represent the third age class of roots. We only traced the control trees during this session. The waterlogged magnolias didn’t show any new root growth.

Don was on leaf counting duty again. This is no small task, the magnolias have 200-300 leaves!

Another new addition to this round of harvesting was the full destructive harvest of six magnolias. A destructive harvest is when you are taking the entire plant, or organs of the plant (plants have organs too: roots, stems, and leaves!), for whatever analysis you may be conducting. In comparison, non-destructive harvests do not destroy the plant and allow it to continue functioning. The only way for us to run nonstructural carbohydrate analyses on the trees is to destructively harvest the entire root systems and a portion of the stem.

"Hey, what are these nonstructural carbohydrates you speak of?" Good question! Also known as NSC, (the opportunity to make something into an acronym is never lost in science) nonstructural carbohydrates are free sugars and starches that plants use for energy and/or energy storage. Think about the human body, we have a much more limited ability to store carbohydrates. Say it’s around 11:30 in the morning and you’re feeling pretty peckish. If there’s not a snack within reach, your body will do this nifty thing where it starts burning up your fat reserves for fuel! Plants, on the other hand, don’t tend to store fat (unless we’re talking nuts and seeds). They store NSC. A question we’re asking with our waterlogging project is how NSC levels change immediately after waterlogging and after a four-week recovery period. Are some tree species moving their NSC belowground to grow new roots? Are others focusing on re-filling their NSC reserves? We’ll have to wait and see!

Presented preliminary results of waterlogging project @ REU symposium

After 10 weeks of full immersion in their projects, all of this summer’s REU students were prepared to give presentations and answer questions about their research. It was great to see everyone’s hard work come to fruition and all of the supportive thumbs up from the mentors in the crowd. Public speaking is a daunting task that doesn’t come naturally or easily to most people. Many of the successful science communicators at The Morton Arboretum have shared that they still get nervous and have to practice their presentations. If public speaking scares you, don’t let that deter you from pursuing a career in research. It is a skill, and there are ways to make the process less anxiety provoking and more exciting! Isabella and I went through many practice runs before the big day. For me personally, I felt like these practice sessions and running through the presentation a couple of dozen times on my own really made a difference.

Released our dearest Izzard into the wild

The big build-up to Wednesday's symposium was followed by a root down hang-out in Luke and Carla’s backyard. We enjoyed some campfire style pizzas to restore our human versions of NSC reserves (i.e. glycogen reserves). Marvin also brought along some durian, which turned out to be an acquired taste only shared amongst some of us. What’s durian, you say? Durian is fruit from the tree species Durio zibethinus. It is in Malvaceae, otherwise known as the mallow family. Other popular plant and fruit celebs from the mallow family include cacao, cotton, okra, and jackfruit. Durian is grown and used in many dishes in Southeast Asia and other tropical regions. If you are looking for a custardy mango taste, then I would highly recommend giving this spiky dude a try! Check out this website to learn more about D. zibethinus.

Durian has many applications, especially if you are trying to fend off a particular intern named Sarah who has yet to acquire a taste for the fruit.

Okay, back to the incredibly sad and bitter-sweet purpose of this whole Root Lab shindig: saying goodbye to Isabella. This summer has gone by in a flash. It feels like just yesterday when I was showing Isabella the white pine plot on her first day. She shared with me her interests in mushroom iD and studio Ghibli movies. Now she’s off to shop for a new cello and begin her last semester at Grinnell. Her work on the respiration project resulted in a number of informative graphs and interesting discussion points. Stay tuned for updates on that project and Isabella’s next adventures! Maybe she’ll migrate to central Mexico with the monarchs?

Shout out to Carla and Luke for a wonderful evening! Above is our just-made-a-paradigm-shifting-scientific-discovery faces.

Check out who's new this week in the Crystallis Corner

If you look closely at the chrysalis, you can see the outlines of the butterfly's wings. The chrysalis becomes translucent right before emergence.