I will be working with Dr. Sylvia Yang from Western Washington University. We will be looking at phenolic acids and eelgrass wasting disease. Phenolic acids are like the immune system of a plant. When the plant senses that an organism is eating it, the plant will send out the phenolic acids to make it bitter tasting, an herbivore deterrent. Likewise, when the plant senses a disease attacking the cells, it will send out phenolic acids to fight off the disease. In this study, I will be looking at whether the phenolic acids the plant produces when it is attacked by animals will help fight diseases as well. Specifically, my question is whether the acids will help protect against eelgrass wasting disease. This disease is caused by a protist called Labyrinthula zosterae. In the 1930's, eelgrass wasting disease wiped out 90% of the eelgrass meadows on the East coast and Europe (Larkum, Awd et al. 2006. Seagrasses: Biology, Ecology, and Conservation). Labyrinthula zosterae is present in the Puget Sound ecosystem but it hasn't caused a widespread outbreak like the 1930's epizootic.
To measure the presence and extent of the disease in this study, I will be using both phenolic acids and image analysis. I will take samples from both before I introduce the disease and after to measure the phenolic acid levels. I will also take photos and use some computer programs to analyze, by pixels, how much of the leaf is diseased or decomposed.
That is weeks in the future though. This afternoon, we collected our first eelgrass shoots and isopods and snails, which will be our herbivores in this study. Tomorrow, I will start to set up the tanks and learn how to take care of eelgrass!
|We collected eelgrass shoots out at Ship Harbor Park. Bridgette (right), another student working on eelgrass, helped us.|