Throughout this trip, Matthew Lacey and I have been setting out camera traps, hoping to catch glimpses of the wild cats of the Amazon. We’ve been placing them on game trails and near locations where the local guides have seen tracks. At Sani Lodge, we were lucky enough to get a picture of an ocelot on the first night they were set. Unfortunately we haven’t gotten any more cat pictures, but we have collected pictures of lots of other jungle wildlife. Through these cameras, we’ve seen red brocket deer picking their way through the undergrowth, agouti shuffling past, and a Grey-Winged Trumpeter investigating the novelty in this strange object on its territory. We’re looking forward to setting the cameras out again now that we’re in the cloud forest, and getting candid snapshots of wildlife.
~ Virginia Tech student Elizabeth Zadnick
Follow the Adventure! You are invited to follow the VT Ecuador students as they report back from South America during their 3-week journey, May 16-June 7. They will be blogging @VTResearch and posting to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using the hashtag #VTEcuador. – See more at: http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/ResearchBlog/#sthash.ZgBtKYWz.dpuf – See more at: http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/ResearchBlog/#sthash.q8nNKmH3.dpuf
Today we visited the Sani community of the Quichua people. This community center is located on the Napo River. The common welcome phrase is Alipunja. When we arrived to the community center we were greeted by a few of the women. A leader of the women’s group took us around their gardens. We stopped and saw their turtle sanctuary for Yellow Spotted Amazon River turtles. We next visited their school and learned about their education system. After the school we visited the farm and harvested the native crop of yuca and weaved head bands with leaves that are also used to make the Panama hats. We tasted fresh sugar cane that was so sweet it was almost candy. After this, we went to the kitchen to see what was for lunch. They had a traditional cooking fire with food roasting above. We tried the native chicha drink while three people were brave enough to eat a live grub. For lunch we ate locally caught fish (a variety of paraña) with heart of palm wrapped in a leaf that had been cooking on the fire. Behind the kitchen was a full size soccer field with local teams competing with one team from Sani lodge. As we were getting ready to leave our guide painted our faces with natural oil paint from a fruit. Finally, we had the opportunity to adopt a Yellow Spotted Amazon river turtle and name it before we released it into the Napo river. We really enjoyed this opportunity to learn about the indigenous Quichua people. Not only have we had the opportunity to explore the endemic biodiversity of the Amazon, but we also were exposed to the culture that is unique to Ecuador.
Photo: Mmmmm grubs!
~ Virginia Tech students Erin Dailey and Emily Reasor
Follow the Adventure! You are invited to follow the VT Ecuador students as they report back from South America during their 3-week journey, May 16-June 7. They will be blogging @VTResearch and posting to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using the hashtag #VTEcuador. – See more at: http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/ResearchBlog/#sthash.ZgBtKYWz.dpuf
Brown, an assistant professor of biological sciences in the College of Science, studies community ecology, and one ecological system in particular: the relationship between crayfish and their worms.
These aquatic worms, known as branchiodellidans, eat the biofilm and sediments that accumulate on crayfish bodies. In exchange, the worms live on the crayfish in a systemic relationship commonly known in biological research as a symbiosis – a bond in which both species mutually benefit.
Recently, several summers of hard work culminated in a paper co-authored by former Fralin fellows Samuel Doak and Meredith Leonard.
Along with Brown and colleague Robert Creed of Appalachian State University, Sam and Meredith spent months – even years – performing fieldwork and analysis to further explore the crayfish-worm relationship, which serves as an effective biological model for various research fields.
“We were fortunate to have these incredible undergraduates help with the research,” said James Skelton, lead author on the paper who, at the time, was a Virginia Tech doctoral student with Brown; Skelton is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida.
“They learned how to catch and identify species, so we were able to collect a huge mass of data and make observations that paint a more thorough picture of how community dynamics change the relationship between crayfish and worms.”
With Sam and Meredith’s help, the team was able to observe that, among other things, when the worms are beneficial to the crayfish, they are more diverse in abundance and interact more. However, this changes as crayfish age, which shifts the relationship dynamic from parasitic to mutually beneficial.
The best time for birding is early in the morning. We rose well before the sun and everyone stumbled down to breakfast. Stomachs full, slowly beginning to wake up we hopped in canoes and headed down the lagoon. The shorelines were littered with birds, anticipation building as we neared the boat landing.
A short hike through the jungle brought us to the base of a massive Kapok tree. The tree rose high above the canopy and was straddled by a 90 foot metal staircase, which we promptly climbed. A massive platform sat atop the tree, yielding breathtaking views of endless rainforest. With no mountains in sight, only a few clouds could be seen on the horizon.
Binoculars in hand we quickly spotted a Great Potoo resting just above our heads; tanagers chasing each other through the tree top; macaws and toucans soaring above the canopy it was hard to know where to look.
All of the sudden our Quichua guide, Javier, noticed something in the distance and ushered over our American guide Rudy. Rudy called over Ignacio and Bill, who were overcome with excitement as they gazed upon one of the most exciting birds in the bird world. In the distance we could see a white speck, with closer examination we made out a massive bird of prey. With talons the size of a human hand, with a crown of gray-white feathers surrounding its head, it sat still as a statue giving everyone an opportunity to admire it. The harpy eagle was the main focus of our group for half an hour as it remained perched for us to observe the illusive creature, and after about an hour it had disappeared into the mist.
Photo: Amazon kingfisher at Sani Lodge.
~ Virginia Tech students Matt Lacey and Caman Skelton
Follow the Adventure! You are invited to follow the VT Ecuador students as they report back from South America during their 3-week journey, May 16-June 7. They will be blogging @VTResearch and posting to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using the hashtag #VTEcuador.
Imagine a small flat 3×1 square of clear glass. On top rests another piece of glass with small holes open to the square underneath.
Now imagine if a full-scale wet lab – complete with rows of flasks, tubes, pumps and a centrifuge – could fit on this miniature surface.
If you’re Virginia Tech cancer researcher Iuliana Lazar, that’s your goal.
“This is the lab-on-a-chip concept,” said Lazar, an associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Science. “Essentially you have an entire lab shrunk down to a few square-inch chip. The plan is to integrate various functional [lab] elements by minimizing their size or developing new designs and new principles that will allow scientists to accomplish new experiments.”
This lab-on-a-chip technology will decrease the amount of time it takes to prep and study cells in a lab. It will also allow Lazar and other researchers to capture what’s going on in cancer cells earlier than what can usually be accomplished with standard technology in a full-scale wet lab setting.
“The beginning of the cell signaling process happens very fast, so even a simple lab procedure such as cell harvesting will perturb the entire process,” said Lazar, whose work is currently supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
“So, what we have suggested instead,” Lazar continued, “is to stimulate the cells on the chip, then perform a quick lysis procedure with an electrical field. This will instantly release the cell’s content to enable further analysis, which would allow us to capture events that otherwise cannot be monitored unless the cells have been subjected to special treatments or genetic modifications.”
Lazar designs this technology to specifically look at the phosphorylation of proteins – a process occurring in early stages of cell stimulation that can inform how cancer cells code for proteins, grow, and further proliferate.
“We also look at differential protein expression,” said Lazar, who is also a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate. “This information then is used to infer some biological mechanism to figure out how cancer cells early on bypass the restriction point and manage to move through the cell cycle.”
So far, she has developed three chip-sized systems that mimic laboratory procedures, two of which she has patents on. Now the trick is integrating all three into one.
“We hope this will open the door, perhaps a new field, to a completely new way of analyzing and looking at the disease,” she said.