Category Archives: Blog

News and updates from both the personal and professional sphere.

NEAS and PSA 2017

NEAS April 21st-23rd, Bretton Woods, NH.

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The Northeast Algal Symposium (NEAS) this year was all fancy in the Mt. Washington Hotel in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. As usual, the meeting was student-focused and the grad and undergrad presentations were nothing short of amazing. And behold, I presented a fancy poster in sunrise hues.

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PSA June 4th-8th, Monterey, CA.

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As usual, the annual meeting of the Phycological Society of America (PSA) was a blast. Great Bold Award session, a multitude of other fabulous talks, and of course, a truly epic symposium on terrestrial algae organized by my academic sister Dr. Nicole Pietrasiak (New Mexico State University). Live tweets from the talks added a new dimension to the talks – it is interesting to see a 140 character version of one’s work! #phyco2017

A couple of interesting field trips were also part of this trip – a tour of the Pacific Biological Laboratories once run by Ed Ricketts, a close friend and collaborator of John Steinbeck. What a spectacular intersection of science and literature! http://www.canneryrow.org/IMG_2409.JPG

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And lastly, I managed to sneak out for a visit to Point Lobos, a wonderful natural area with lively intertidal communities, including the giant green anemone Anthopleura xanthogrammica (the host of symbiotic green algae of the genus Elliptochloris) and whole lawns of gorgeous corallines. IMG_2439.JPG

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Looking forward to next year in Vancouver!

Barrows Academy Bioblitz 2017

The Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy in North Windham, CT had its third annual bioblitz on Friday May 19th 2017. Of course, I wouldn’t miss it for the world, and this time I brought Emily and Melissa along for the fun. The grand total this year was 162 species, with plants being the winning group (even over insects!), although I am sure more species will be added as the contents of the student-made insect traps are checked and identified this week. The Barrows students now have three years of species data to analyze!

It was a long and hot day for sure, and we went algae hunting on our way home (with moderate success), so definitely action-packed. Found Lemanea and some other filamentous stream macrophytes for later examination and DNA work, but not the elusive Tuomeya americana we were looking for. The search continues.IMG_2301

Summer (research) is coming!

I am super excited to be mentoring Melissa Taylor and Emily Norman this summer. Melissa will work on culturing and sequencing Oonephris obesa and Cylindrocapsa geminella – the goal will be to obtain and characterize their organellar genomes. Emily will be working on a floristic project comparing the algal species diversity in selected Massachusetts and New Hampshire wetlands to historical records.

In addition I am very happy to learn that several of my fabulous volunteers will be returning in the fall to do more floristics and iNaturalisting. Here’s Charlotte’s Synura and Mallomonas, Luke’s Dinobryon (taken under phase contrast), and Victoria’s Merismopedia – one of her great finds in the samples she collected on Cape Cod!

Spring algal flora in New Hampshire

The weather has been mostly spring-like these past couple of weeks and algae are definitely out and about in local water bodies. I have sampled a few wetlands including boggy pools and larger ponds and lakes in NH and MA – and the pickings are good! As is typical for the spring, the samples are dominated by chrysophytes, synurophytes, dinoflagellates and diatoms.

Some of the peat bogs also harbored desmids, my favorite kind of algae, and several species of euglenoids, both photosynthetic and non-photosynthetic (the latter are species or genera that have secondarily lost their photosynthetic superpowers).

Undoubtedly the best find was the colonial chrysophyte Cyclonexis annularis. This genus and species is considered rare and to my knowledge has not yet been reported from NH. It has, however, been spotted in the 1940’s in Andover MA, not too far from here. This little critter was swimming fast, so I could not snap a good close-up picture; I only managed to shoot a quick video of it swimming. The colony is bracelet-shaped with individual flagellated cells attached to one another by their sides. Previous authors report the colonies being very fragile and easily falling apart by physical disturbance (bumping into something) and by application of fixatives such as alcohol. Thus, I’ll probably have a hard time getting a better picture!

 

PS: I’ve logged all my observations into my iNaturalist project: http://www.inaturalist.org/projects/freshwater-algae-of-new-england-and-new-york

A quick trip to the West Coast.

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A good friend of mine, Dr. Kathryn Theiss, invited me to give a seminar presentation in her department at California State University Dominguez Hills. Prior to the talk, which happened on March 3rd, I got to meet with groups of students in the MBRS RISE and MARC U*STAR programs, which facilitate active involvement of minority students in biology and other  research.  It was great to chat and share my academic experiences with motivated young people from diverse backgrounds and with a wide range of research interests. Hopefully they learned something – but I certainly learned new things about particle colliders, the behavior of gases at temperatures near absolute zero, and pre-exposure prophylactic treatments for HIV.

Before heading home, I ran the Singletrack Stampede trail marathon – a race with over 4000 ft of total elevation gain. It took me almost five hours to finish, but in the end I placed 3rd among (not too many) women.

Tropical table mountains and chloroplast genomes

February brought me a new and exciting job, but also two publications that happen to represent the opposite ends of the spectrum of my research interests.

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Churi Tepui, Venezuela (photo by Dr. Jan Kastovsky)

The first article, published in the journal Phytotaxa, is a collaborative study I worked on with my friends and colleagues at the University of South Bohemia. The paper describes two new species of Cyanobacteria, two new species of diatoms, and one new genus and species of green algae, Ekerewekia churiensis. These likely endemic algae were collected on top of Churi Tepui, a table mountain in Venezuela. Now, table mountains have fascinated scientists for a long time, as they harbor unique floras and faunas that have been isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years. Still, the diversity of microscopic organisms of table mountains largely remains to be explored.

 

 

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The newly discovered Ekerewekia with its long, branched filaments is unique among its  relatives. Even though other filamentous forms exist in this group of green algae (called the Prasiola clade), they are not closely related to Ekerewekia, suggesting that the multicellular, filamentous form evolved twice in the Prasiola clade.

 

The newly described green alga Ekerewekia was also examined with the use of molecular phylogenetic methods and was found to belong to a diverse group of green algae called the ‘Prasiola clade’. This group mostly contains single-celled organisms, among which Ekerewekia stands out as very unusual. However, another subgroup of the Prasiola clade contains filamentous forms (though very different looking from Ekerewekia), but is not closely related to Ekerewekia, suggesting two evolutionary origins of multicellularity in this algal group. This finding underscores how studying and exploring biodiversity goes hand in hand with understanding evolution.

Kaštovský J, Veselá J, Bohunická M, Fučíková K, Štenclová L, Brewer-Carías C. 2016. New and unusual species of cyanobacteria, diatoms and green algae, with a description of a new genus Ekerewekia gen. nov. (Chlorophyta) from the table mountain Churí-tepui, Chimantá Massif (Venezuela) Phytotaxa 247: 153-180.


 

The second paper was published in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution and describes the phylogenetic relationships in the green algal order Sphaeropleales as inferred by chloroplast genome data. We found that the outcome really depends how one analyzes the data, and this might be caused by a variety of biases in the sequence data themselves. Thus, it is essential to apply the most appropriate analysis methods that will account for such biases as much as possible.

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Amino acid data yield a different tree topology than nucleotide data – even though these data sets originate from the same genes (amino acid data are merely translated nucleotide data). One possible explanation is that some species have highly biased codon and amino acid composition relative to what we would expect solely based on nucleotide composition.

The paper is part of the Green Algal Tree of Life project, which was funded by the National Science Foundation. In addition, a more in-depth description and comparative analysis of the chloroplast genomes will be coming out soon in the journal Data in Brief.

 

Fučíková K, Lewis PO, Lewis LA. In press. Chloroplast phylogenomic data from the green algal order Sphaeropleales (Chlorophyceae, Chlorophyta) reveal complex patterns of sequence evolution. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. pdf preprint