Flexin’ My Mussels and Saying Bye to BIO

Last month Dan, Danielle and I trekked down to Chatham, Ontario to collect some samples for the freshwater mussel project that I’ve been working on for the last year. We collaborated with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as they were working on monitoring the mussel populations for their projects and were able to help us find and ID the mussels. We arrived on July 27th, and after getting into our waders we got ourselves set up in the river. Luckily for us the DFO crew had collected specimens for us so after going over some quick IDs we started sampling. Like I mentioned in my last blog post, we were testing the use of swabs to collect DNA from the mussels, in order to build the reference library without harming the mussels. After spending the day working in a conveyor belt style system, the three of us had gotten it down to a science and were able to sample a lot of specimens in a short amount of time.

Mussels collected by the DFO team
Mussels collected by the DFO team

The next day, we joined the DFO crew earlier and helped them with their surveys. Using viewing boxes we found the mussels and collected them, soaking ourselves in the process. The DFO was collecting mussels to ID and measure them for their databases so once they had finished with them we began sampling for our project.

During our time in the field I was able to pick up some tips from the DFO crew on how to properly handle the mussels in order to reduce stress.  We kept the mussels out of direct sunlight in flow through bins submerged in the water. These flow through bins were kept upstream in order to prevent any debris that we kicked up from flowing over the bins. We also had to ensure that any metal tools (such as forceps) were not still hot after flame sterilization. Finally we returned the mussels back into the river in the general area and substrate type that we found them in.

Swabbing the mussels for DNA barcoding
Swabbing the mussels for DNA barcoding

After two days of sampling we completed enough samples to fill 3 plates. Overall we collected samples from 141 individuals over 20 species which is amazing considering that there are 41 species of freshwater mussels found in Ontario!

We’re in the process of getting sequences from these samples, but in the meantime Kara Layton will be giving a presentation about the freshwater mussel project at the International Barcode of Life Conference. The conference is happening this week in Guelph will be a great opportunity to tell other researchers about our work, and get feedback about what we’ve been doing.

The conference comes at a great time because sadly, I am currently finishing up my last week at BIO and it’s a fun way to end my time here. It’s crazy to think that when I started I didn’t know how to ID mussels, or even what DNA barcoding was. I’ve learned so much I am appreciative for the opportunity to be a part of some of the most cutting edge research in the world. I’d like to use my blog to thank everyone at BIO that answered my questions, taught me how to do everything and encouraged me over the last year. All of you helped me grow so much and I will always be grateful.

I love mussels!
I love mussels!

Oh, and I’d like to thank all the mussels I sampled for their contribution to science, I really couldn’t have done it without them!

Mussels are awesome creatures!
Mussels are awesome creatures!

– Kareina

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