Trial and error

Posted: May 27, 2013

Undergraduate assistant Tori Stipcak recaps her week (23 May 2013)
Fluorescent aphids

Fluorescent aphids

If I were to summarize my experience in the Tooker Lab throughout this week, “trial and error” would be its encompassing theme. Kinks and hiccups are to be expected in any sort of scientific endeavor, and this week involved both the frustrating and instructive.

Monday began with setting up a trial experiment that would allow for observation of aphid movement amongst wheat plants. Much of Ian’s work highlights the importance of increasing genotypic diversity in crops to limit pest infestations. Marking aphids would allow us to monitor their movement and would show which wheat varieties repel aphids and which attract them. I carefully marked the aphids using red, yellow, blue, and white fluorescent powder. The different color will allow us to differentiate aphids that were placed on individual plants. I placed them in the nooks of the wheat using a paintbrush and then started tracking their movement between plants.

On Tuesday, Ian and I counted bird cherry-oat aphids (Rhopalosiphum padi) on spring wheat plants and on Wednesday Katie joined us. The goal of this experiment was to identify aphid population preferences towards monocultures of differing spring wheat varieties as well as on cultivar mixtures. Since counting teeny-tiny aphids becomes a mundane task, it was an awesome surprise to find a jumping spider in the greenhouse. Barbara, the jumping spider, was really unique in that she was abnormally large and had royal green chelicerae.

So after all the hard work counting the aphids, Ian looked at the data from both weeks and identified some issues with the original aphid infestations. Because of this, Friday was spent resetting the experiment by planting lots and lots of wheat. Additionally, throughout the week, we observed the movement of the fluorescently marked aphids. In the near future, we hope to see positive results that show that this process can be successfully up-scaled for use in upcoming experiments. 

Barbara the spider

Barbara the spider--our lab pet!