MCLA

Water World

Research team studies sea anemones


11/04/2009

Among the outstanding faculty to join MCLA in recent years is Dr. Anne Goodwin, who earned her Ph.D. at Harvard University in 2004. At the College since 2007, Goodwin brings her love of marine life to campus as she and her students accomplish important research with sea anemones.

Easy to maintain in a lab, there are many interesting biological questions to address with these animals, according to Goodwin.

"Working with sea anemones, my students and I can conduct a variety of research projects at MCLA without frequent access to the ocean," she says.

Through their projects, students practice research skills such as experimental design, procedural trouble-shooting, data analysis, record-keeping, and literature review. In addition to writing grants to fund their projects and presenting their work at scientific conferences, "They learn specific techniques in animal handling, DNA work, bacterial characterization, and molecular analysis," Goodwin explains.

Over the summer, Goodwin collected anemones at Cape Cod that belong to the invasive species Diadumene lineata.

"Undergraduate students Jesse Hadcock '10 and Anita Parker '10 are currently focusing their research on this anemone," she says.  "Jesse is conducting a survey of the Diadumene literature. He is writing an article summarizing what is known about these animals, which we will post to Wikipedia. Anita is examining Diadumene biology, using DNA analysis to identify single-celled algae that might contribute to the nutrition of the anemones."

In addition, Goodwin will work with students to identify Diadumene bacterial populations, using microscopy, culture techniques, and DNA analysis.

Also last summer, along with colleagues from nearby Williams College, Goodwin studied the Aiptasia pallid, commonly used to experimentally model coral bleaching. 

The work, funded by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, allowed her to begin to identify the bacterial populations living within this type of anemone. She used electron microscopy to examine the locations and physical characteristics of bacteria in the anemone tissue, as well as DNA analysis to identify specific bacteria.

According to Goodwin, there are no papers describing algal populations in Diadumene, or bacterial populations in Aiptasia or Diadumene. 

"Aiptasia is a common pest in marine aquaria maintained by hobbyists and is naturally found in warmer waters, but Diadumene is an invasive species found along both coasts of the United States, so it is important to know more about the biology of this organism," Goodwin says. 

Another project, nearly completed, involves study of the nervous system of Aiptasia, as Erin Halton '10 and Samantha Bowers '10 examine the effects of neurotransmitter chemicals on anemone tentacle contraction.

This report, too, will be novel, Goodwin says. Halton will present their findings at next month's North East Undergraduate Research Organization for Neuroscience conference in Boston.