Sunday, June 30, 2013

Leeah Whittier: Week 1 in the Maslakova Lab

Week 1 in the Maslakova Lab
My name is Leeah Whittier and I am a recent graduate from Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. I will transfer in the fall of this year to the University of Oregon where I will study to earn a Fine Art undergraduate degree and a degree in Biology with a Marine emphasis. When I applied for the COSEE-PRIME internship I was mostly interested in the experiences that it would provide. This is a very hands-on program that gives community college students the opportunity to do real field studies and research that they wouldn’t normally be able to do. As part of the PRIME internship this summer I will be working in the Maslakova lab on the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology campus.

This week I learned mostly about how the lab operates on a daily basis. I met my mentors over lunch on Monday, Dr. Svetlana Maslakova, Dr. George von Dassow and PhD students Terra and Laurel Heibert. The Maslakova lab focuses primarily on a phylum of invertebrates called Nemertea, their development and taxonomy. In the coming weeks I will be working on a project to identify nemertean larvae and match them with their corresponding adult forms. So far I have become familiar with collection techniques of larval stages of nemerteans via plankton tows. In addition I have learned how to collect the adult nemerteans by digging in various mudflats in the area. On day three of my time here, Laurel showed me how to make a culture of pilidium larvae. These are hat-shaped larvae that belong to the species Micura alaskensis, the "bread and butter of the nemertean world" as George puts it. I was given a small culture to look after and see through to the end of their development.

Below are some pictures that I have taken over the week of my developing culture. From left to right and top to bottom are days 2 through 5 of my culture's growth.

Pilidium Development Days 2 through 5

Next week on Monday I will be learning how to do DNA extractions on some specimens that I had caught and frozen. I am also learning a lot of the names of the plankton and the members in the lab have been very helpful in teaching them to me. Below are four of the five specimens I preserved over the last few days.

1. Bivalve Vileger 2. Gastropod Vileger  3. Oikopleura   4. Unknown ciliated specimen with lipid spots
Finally for this week I have been drawing some of the adult nemerteans that are currently undefined in this area. Terra requested that I draw both a Micura and a Cerebratulus adult. I scanned some of my drawings from this week to share.


  1. Hi Leeah, those are fantastic illustrations. You will probably have quite a nice lab notebook by the end of the summer. I look forward to seeing more. Say hello to Terra from all of us at Shannon Point - she was here as a grad student a few years ago. Cheers.

  2. Well done for setting up the meeting with John Megahan. He is the Senior Biological Illustrator at the University of Michigan's Museum of Zoology. We are very lucky to have him here each summer to teach our biological illustration course. He was very impressed by your work and you should feel free to contact him for advice as you progress in your career.