It’s Cold in the Cold Room!

Today I’ll show you a bit of the working space I have here on the JOIDES Resolution, specifically the cold room where I culture subseafloor microbes.  Come on in, and bring a jacket!

27 December 2010
One of my goals for this cruise is to culture (grow) some microbes from the subseafloor environment.  I’m new at culturing, so we’ll see how my luck goes.  One reason I want to culture microbes is because then I will have organisms representative of the subseafloor environment with which I can perform experiments back in the lab.  It’s great doing work in the field, but sometimes one needs a more controlled environment to answer a specific question, and a great way to do that is to control everything in a lab culture of microbes you isolated from the environment.

The seamounts we are studying on Leg 330 are all inactive, which means that although they were once active volcanoes, just like Hawaii, they now sit on the seafloor and dislplay no volcanism.  Therefore, their subsurface environment is cold, about 4 degrees C.  This is the same temperature as most refrigerators.  To grow microbes from a cold environment, I am using the cold room on the JOIDES Resolution so that my microbes will stay cold and happy.  In the photo below, you see me working in the glove box in the cold room. 

Notice the jacket- I can be in there for 1-2 hours at a time, so it get’s pretty cold.  The big plastic box I’m working in is called a Coy Chamber (the company that makes it is named Coy).  I pumped some gas in there that keeps the environment anaerobic, which is good for some of the microbes I want to grow.  Here’s a cool picture of me working in there from the back of the chamber:

When I get a sample, I crush it into little pieces and then add those pieces to the media that I made before coming out here (remember back in my first blog?).  Here’s a picture of some of the cultures I’ve started so far.


  I currently have samples from all the way down to 135 meters below seafloor, so there are some microbes in there that travelled a long way to (hopefully) grow in my bottles!

If some microbes like that media I made, they will keep on living happily until I can get them back to my lab at USC and identify them.  I’ll finish off with some potentially good news- in the photo below, you’ll see in the box outline something that looks like a tornado.  I swirled this vial before taking the picture (to disturb the debris at the bottom)- I’ve been keeping an eye on it and it looks like there’s more debris now than when I started!  That means something is probably growing in there.  In case you are wondering, the reason there was debris at the start is because I inject the vials with some pieces of rocks from my samples, so the culture experiments all start off with a little debris in there.  Again, I wont know what is growing until I get back to the lab, but I do have equipment for counting cells out here and I’ll probably do that in the future if it still looks like something is growing. 

I hope you are learning something and enjoying my blog- in the next few posts I’ll keep showing you some of the research I’m doing out here in the microbiology lab.  I hope to have a walkthrough of my sample workflow for you sometime in the next few weeks.  Stay tuned… 

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JOIDES Resolution