Wednesday, 14 August 2013

I'd rather be lucky than good!

When I was growing up, my parents ingrained a bunch of slogans in me. They encapsulated valuable life lessons like "Attitude is a choice," "It's the beach stupid," and "Fly, Eagles, Fly!"

But one that Mom was particularly fond of saying seems especially resonant today:

"I'd rather be lucky than good."

(Dad's counterpoint was, of course, "Serendipity favors the prepared mind.")

Today, I'm feeling very, very lucky.

Because when I unpacked the control seedlings (the ones that, as I explained here, are supposed to stay "clean" throughout the experiment) today, I found no fungal contamination on their root systems!
My how you've grown! The greenhouse seedlings are mostly
thriving more than six months after their November replanting.
Though very preliminary, this is incredibly good news because it means that we've probably managed to catch the fungal contamination before it spread throughout the experiment. We'll know more in a few days after I've made some progress on the harvest, which is now proceeding full-speed ahead!

The first seedlings that we've harvested following checking the controls are ones that show evidence of fungal fruiting bodies (i.e., mushroom formation) like this:
The fuzzy brown mound around the base of the seedling
is a fungal fruiting body, indicating risk of contamination.
(Photo taken by I.A. Dickie.)
We're following the usual protocol of taking measurements of seedling height, and then looking carefully at the root systems with a microscope to measure the level of fungal colonization. This time, because we don't need to keep the seedlings alive for a second experiment, we also separate the roots from the above-ground shoot, and dry them separately in paper bags to measure how much the seedlings have grown since they were planted almost a year and a half ago.
Lots of time at the microscope is on tap for the next couple of
weeks! The grid helps us quickly measure root system size.
Although our control seedlings had beautifully clean root systems, now that I'm starting to look at the heart of the experiment, it's a lot of fun to see the diversity of shapes and colors of fungal infections on other seedlings!
This highly-branched chunk of the root system indicates
the presence of mutualistic fungi, wrapping themselves like
a comfortable blanket around the seedling's roots.
Today, with the help of K.'s measuring and washing skills, I was able to process 29 seedlings. Hopefully this rate will speed up, since I have to get through almost 500 before sampling is done! It'll be a tight deadline, given that I only have two weeks in New Zealand on this trip.

In any case, I'm keeping myself well-fueled on chocolate, and looking forward to the results the next few days will bring!
They had a sale at the supermarket today...


  1. Hooray! I'm glad that the infestation appears to be localized.

    Hey, Holly, is the nature of the experiment more exploratory, e.g. to see how the fungi spread and fight each other, or do you have certain hypotheses you're trying to test? (When I did my dissertation it was purely exploratory, looking at people's experiences in life that they categorized as having a "magical" quality.) I'm sure it's not an either/or matter, but just curious about the bigger picture and also if there are certain ecological ramifications that you're hoping your research will help to elucidate.

    As for the chocolate, hazel nut can be dangerous, as I found when we went to Rome. For us the problem happened when we found a gelato store that perfected the hazel nut flavor (along with pistachio and coconut.) We found ourselves returning there so often that I finally calculated that it'd be cheaper to buy the ice cream by the pound. So on our last day, just a couple of hours before heading to the airport, we went for our last hurrah and ordered a pound of the addictive stuff. I didn't have the heart to tell the helpful clerk who was carefully wrapping our container that her efforts are for naught. As soon as she finished packaging it, with wrapping paper and tape, we sat down at the counter, tore into it, and ignored the locals who looked at us in amazement as we wolfed down the ice cream. So when I saw that you cleared out the chocolate from the supermarket shelves, it reminded me. I think when I travel abroad I allow myself to go a little more crazy than usual :-)

    1. Too bad you're not still working on your thesis -- I could describe the "magical" feeling of passing one of Danny or Eric's serves!

      We have a series of hypotheses that have to do with what we already know about the fungi present in the greenhouse. One classic idea in ecology is the "competition/colonization tradeoff." The idea is that if you are a good colonizer (i.e., really fast at getting to new, available habitat) you give up some of your abilities as a competitor (i.e., your ability to hold your ground against other species once you're there). In our greenhouse experiment, we have several fungi which we know are good colonizers, and we're curious to see how they'll hold up when exposed to other fungi in the belowground battle for tree root systems.

      But, largely this study has been exploratory, to see who is helping Douglas-fir invade New Zealand, and where these fungi are widely available to wilding trees.

  2. Hey Holly, I hope you get all the root systems examined in time. Obviously you must be very busy, but I hope you're continuing to make good progress.

    I was wondering about the competition/colonization tradeoff, is there an underlying biological or physical reason that there's got to be a tradeoff? You'd think that from an evolutionary perspective a fungus would've emerged that could excel at both, so I'm curious as to why that hasn't happened, if I understand it correctly? Or maybe there are fungi who excel at both but because it's an arm race even the slightest advantage makes certain apparent advantages obsolete? (You can answer this question at your leisure when you're not pressed for time, of course.)

    As for your vball update, more drama happened around doubles play... At least I wasn't there so for once I wasn't the focus/cause of it. J was playing a doubles game and people wanted to invade the net (as they're always prone to do, in fungus-like fashion) and they called her rude for not accommodating their selfish needs. So she kept bitching to me about how it's messed up, and I told her she's starting to sound like me, but it just solidified our commitment to continuing to hold the private events. It's nice to have a doubles sanctuary where I don't feel like I need to constantly look over my back and redirect errant players onto other nets.