Aug. 4th, 2011

jinian: (Collomia grandiflora)
Working really hard since returning to Seattle, where it is beautiful out (finally) and I have no energy to enjoy it. Tonight the new postdoc and I stayed late making competent E. coli for molecular cloning -- "competent" in this context meaning they're willing to suck up plasmids (circular DNA bits we design) when we freak them out by overheating them briefly. Impending death means you use whatever tools you can find! And then we let them live... if they picked up the right thing.

Way back on Sunday, though, Wim and I had an actual good time. We drove to Monterey from Berkeley despite a few initial difficulties, passing through Gilroy at Garlic Festival time and witnessing the long lines at the relevant freeway exits. Cousin #4 met us at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and showed us lots of amazing things behind the scenes, including an importunate sea turtle (fed on synthetic jellyfish-mimicking gel that they make in sausage casings and slice!) and beautiful little cuttlefish (one threatened me by flashing a dark square! and they remodeled their skin's color and texture to match the sand when they weren't making blue chaser lights around their edges!).

Said cousin is in charge of the peripheral tanks in the kelp forest room, and she says when they collect kelp they have to get the holdfasts or the stalks alone will die, even if tied down. Fascinating! Time to nerd out! Kelp are not plants; they're brown algae. It turns out ('cause you know I did a literature review) that algae have been found to contain pretty much all plant hormones. The current hypothesis is that the hormones are pretty much all coming from the chloroplast, which is really the only thing that makes sense -- chloroplasts were acquired separately in different algae types, and land plants evolved from the green algae, so the chloroplasts are the only thing such different organisms have in kind-of common. (But is there really only one kind of photosynthetic prokaryote? All these complicated hormones may be evolutionarily very ancient.) So, as kelp is not a plant and lives in a seething nutrient solution, holdfasts are not at all roots. (Anatomy of kelp.) They don't take up nutrients, and there's no vascular tissue to transport them long distances; holdfasts really just hang onto the bottom so the kelp doesn't get washed away. What chemical signal does the holdfast send to the rest of the body to let it know it's there? This is a separate origin of multicellularity from that of plants, but it has lots of the same building blocks. Are they all used the same way? My first-pass idea for checking out the usual suspects involves taking tissue from different kelp parts and looking at gene expression of hormone synthesis pathways, but this is chancy because there's no sequenced genome. A person could do that, but it takes time. More importantly, I kind of have a career plan, i.e., being an awesome microscopist, and there are lots of problems with imaging in kelp. (Primarily, I have no way to get transgenes into it at all so I can't make interesting proteins visible by attaching GFP, and also algae are said to be especially difficult due to autofluorescence.) But I don't see how anyone could not think that kelp is wonderful after seeing Monterey Bay and the sea otters meditating in the kelp beds.

We took Cousin #4 to lunch at a good Mexican place, wandered the aquarium a while longer, and drove back toward Palo Alto richer by an excellent jellyfish t-shirt. The iPad and its GPS ability were surprisingly valuable for navigation and helped us find a little beach that we walked down to. My foot was not too tired (healing yay) until I tried walking on the soft sand, but that was really difficult!

The iPad also helped us meet up with [personal profile] oyceter and CB in a reasonable fashion despite traffic backups over the mountain pass on highway 17. We were tantalizingly close to moving at a pace where I could have jumped out of the car, taken botanical specimens, and skibbled back in, but with the foot it was not happening. I did manage to peg the most common golden-orange flower as a Mimulus/Diplacus type from the car, so my botanical cockatiel-crest is in good order. (There was one in the parking lot at the UC Botanical Garden that I got to pull apart, and I think they're Diplacus auriantiacus.

Dinner at Palo Alto Creamery with Oyce and CB was delicious, great burgers with thick enough bacon to stand up to the beef and a ridiculous milkshake: Oreo cookie with mint and added peanut butter. I wouldn't have thought that would be good, but Oyce knows what she's doing. (Or she lucked out; it was not completely clear which.) Talked obscure video games with CB, who needs to try Vib-Ribbon sometime. We went to visit ratties after and met Momo and Haru, who are shy but can be won over with food. Eventually the Zipcar was due back and we took off.

Monday Wim did a soldering project with his sister for her research -- LEDs can be used as light sensors as well as emitters, who knew? -- while I read Jenny Crusie and loafed. I was perfectly content to do this until our flight, but Wim wanted to do a thing, so we went to the Botanical Garden briefly on our way to the airport. The vernal pool was dry, unsurprisingly, but there were lots of fun things to look at. Leaves and flowers to admire, names to be amused by. No hats for sunburned girls, though. Where does one buy pretty broad-brimmed hats when one has a big head?

Travel home was pretty much without incident. Virgin America remains a hilarious way to fly: they have used blue and purple LED technology to MAXIMUM, everything is white iMac-looking plastic, and the remote control/game controller/keyboard in the armrest is delightfully absurd. One of my buttons wasn't working, but I played some Gem Drop game that didn't need it during our descent. Fun.

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