Sep. 15, 2011

A Visit to the National Center for Culture of Marine Phytoplankton

by Coastal Studies for Girls

By Brianne, Coastal Studies for Girls

Last Friday, Dr. David Fields, Senior Scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science, gave the students of Coastal Studies for Girls a tour around the buildings. One of the highlights of the trip was their vast algal collection. All seventeen of us piled into the little refrigerated room that held extra marine phytoplankton cultures that are stored as “back ups” in case the something devastating happens to the cultures in the main building.

The National Center for Culture of Marine Phytoplankton (CCMP) functions much like a library. Each species of alga is cataloged with its own code so that it can be easily identified. Scientists are able to order these samples online by looking up the desired species in the catalog and then submitting an electronic form. When an order comes in for a certain alga, a single cell of that alga is taken from the library, grown to the requested amount, and sent off.

CCMP was derived from the private culture collections of Dr. Luigi Provasoli at Yale University and Dr. Robert R. L. Guillard at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This collection was originally small due to inadequate resources for maintaining a large collection. But in March of 1980, the Biological Oceanography Program of the National Science Foundation held a workshop on the culturing of marine phytoplankton and it was there suggested that Dr. Guillard would run a single, national collection of marine phytoplankton. The collection was initially maintained at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, MA, but in the fall of 1981, it was moved to Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in West Boothbay Harbor, Maine.

Currently the CCMP stores cultures at five different temperatures:(- 2°C, 4°C, 14°C, 20°C and 25°C); there are two culture chambers for each temperature. There are three sets of cultures of each strain, and a fourth located in a separate building and maintained as a back up for the three.

All the information about how to order and culture your own marine phytoplankton is on their Web site. Not only does the CCMP maintain over 2500 strains of phytoplankton from around the world, but they also have some freshwater and heterotrophic organisms. Currently they are also undergoing major construction to move the collection to East Boothbay in November.

I know that I thoroughly enjoyed this experience; it was absolutely amazing! I believe that all of my fellow students were awed as well. The vastness of the collection is incredible! So much work goes into maintaining these little test tubes full of phytoplankton. They have to be fed every day and kept under special lamps. I was especially amazed when I saw that it was exactly like a library except it had test tube cultures instead of books. As a young, aspiring scientist, it was so exciting for me to see the power of science. We can now collect and maintain strains of phytoplankton from all over the world for many, many years. The technology that scientists use is so advanced and I just cannot wait to get my hands on it when I am older. We are the next generation of scientists, and I hope this experience inspired the other students as much as it inspired me.

Coastal Studies for Girls is the country’s only residential science and leadership semester school for 10th grade girls. CSG is dedicated to girls who have a love for learning and discovery, an adventurous spirit, and a desire to challenge themselves.

About Coastal Studies for Girls

Coastal Studies for Girls is the country’s only residential science and leadership semester school for 10th grade girls.

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