Undergraduate research technicians provide important project support to research labs while gaining valuable experience in a variety of scientific disciplines. At Alaska Pacific University, these experiences can also lead to junior practica or senior projects. Here, we introduce Corina Cabrera and Neil Walsh, two of the standout undergraduate research technicians from the FAST Lab. Both Corina and Neil have recently been working on projects related to Pacific halibut, a species of cultural and economic importance to Alaska. Given the dramatic effects of global change on high-latitude marine environments, developing a thorough comprehension of the physiology and ecology of marine organisms, like halibut, is of paramount importance to understanding potential future changes in their abundances and distributions. Through their work on Pacific halibut, Corina and Neil are able further their educational goals while simultaneously contributing to our understanding of this important species.
Over the last semester, Corina processed approximately 900 Pacific halibut muscle tissue samples in support of FAST Lab graduate student Brian Ritchie’s MSc work. Muscle tissues were oven-dried for several days and ground into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle. Once ground, the samples were sent to the Stable Isotope Laboratory at the University of Wyoming for carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis. Carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes are used as proxy indicators for diet composition and dietary range. These samples will help us understand potential spatial variability in the Pacific halibut diet in the Gulf of Alaska.
Neil Walsh: Neil examined Pacific halibut heart tissue samples collected from the port of Homer as a part of a long-term monitoring project for the pathogen Ichthyophonus. The FAST Lab has been monitoring the prevalence of this organism in a variety of fish species and locations throughout Alaska since 2011. While some fish species are quite susceptible to the associated disease, Ichthyophoniasis; the effects appear to be subclinical in Pacific halibut. The pink liquid that the heart tissue sits in is growth media, encouraging the pathogen to grow so we can see it more clearly under the microscope. After Neil finished the examination of heart tissue, he examined the associated otoliths to age the fish. FAST Lab researchers can then examine the influence of age, size, sex, etc. on Ichthyophonus prevalence. This work builds on a recent FAST Lab publication (Harris B, Webster S, Wolf N, and Hershberger P (2018) Ichthyophonus in sport-caught groundfishes from southcentral Alaska. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 128(2). DOI: 10.3354/dao03218) and will be detailed in an upcoming publication authored by FAST Lab graduate alumni Sioned Sitkiewicz.
To learn more about the FAST Lab at Alaska Pacific University and their work by visiting www.alaskapacific.edu/fast-lab/