We’ve brought you a lot of the action of Alvin’s launches, dives, and recoveries out on deck and on the seafloor. Now that the sub has made its last dive of the expedition and we’re headed back to shore, it seems like a fitting time to peek in on a few of the projects in the ship’s labs.
One big push has focused on the analysis of vent fluids and their associated microbes collected in the IGTs, or Isobaric Gas-Tight samplers, developed by geochemist Jeff Seewald. The samplers maintain vent fluids at the immense pressure of the deep sea, so gases remain dissolved in solution. Jeff and research associate Sean Sylva have been analyzing the chemistry of the vent fluids from the IGTs, and graduate students Jesse McNichol, Sayaka Mino, and Stefan Dyksma have been analyzing the microbes in the fluids to determine how active they are.
Another arm of the ship’s labwork has focused on processing samples of microbes collected on colonizers deployed at the vents and from the vent chimneys that Alvin has brought back. Postdoc Donato Giovannelli and microbiologist Fengping Wang are among those preserving samples of the microbes for analysis of their genetic material and metabolism back on shore.
And all those giant tube worms Alvin collected? Some of them made their way to marine biologist Horst Felbeck and graduate student Tjorven Hinzke in the “slice and dice” lab, where the pair have been dissecting the worms and preserving samples of the symbiotic microbes that live inside them. On shore, they’ll analyze the proteins that the microbes produce to determine what kinds of biochemical reactions they use to make food for their hosts through the process of chemosynthesis.
Another batch of the worms ended up in the pressure van, where microbiologist KT Scott, technician Jennifer Delaney, and graduate students Juliana Leonard, Jessica Panzarino, and Jonathan Sanders have been incubating them at high pressure with different environmental conditions. By analyzing water chemistry before seawater enters the worms’ pressure vessels and after it comes out, they’re studying what substances the worms are using and how the animals metabolize them. This will help them understand how the worms adapt to different conditions at the vents.