October 9, 2013
Moore, a University of Maine junior from Trumbull, Conn., studying marine science, is spending the summer researching squid muscles alongside visiting scientist Joe Thompson at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine.
Thompson, an associate professor of biology at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn., has been researching at UMaine’s marine laboratory every summer since 2005. The invertebrate zoologist specializes in cephalopod biology, and is currently studying locomotion and muscle physiology in squid.
Moore’s adviser William Ellis, an oceanography professor and associate director of the UMaine School of Marine Sciences, suggested she contact Thompson after she expressed an interest in cephalopods. She is now working with Thompson to determine the physiological differences between obliquely striated muscles within individual squids and the evolution of those muscles. Obliquely striated muscles contain filaments that are staggered as opposed to forming organized or irregular bands.
“Obliquely striated muscles appear in squid and more than 14 other phyla, but they’ve never been researched very thoroughly,” Moore says. “So Joe and I are researching the contractile properties of them in different parts of the squid.”
To study muscle properties, Moore says they dissect the squid and isolate the fibers they want to look at. They then take thin sheets of the muscles, attach them to aluminum foil clips on a muscle rig and send currents through them. The currents cause the muscles to contract and move a lever. The lever’s movement is displayed on a computer monitor, allowing the researchers to determine how much force is produced.
“I’ve never used equipment like this before. I’ve used microscopes, but nothing this,” Moore says of the muscle rig and vibratome, which uses a vibrating razor blade to slice thin sheets of tissue. She says she was cautious at first but is now comfortable using the tools.
Moore says the project is at the beginning stages, and they have been collecting data.
“The preliminary results have shown the obliquely striated muscle does contract a lot more than we thought it would and that’s surprising,” Moore says, adding she has learned a lot about anatomy, muscle properties and how to dissect properly while working on the project.
Moore says working with Thompson on her first in-depth, hands-on research project has been a rewarding experience.
“I’ve loved working with Joe,” Moore says. “He’s a really great guy. He’s very kind and explains things well, and he’s very understanding when I make mistakes.”
She says working with Thompson will help improve her lab skills and give her the confidence to approach other scientists about their work.
Moore says she’s keeping her options open for after graduation and is considering graduate school, getting experience in the field or working abroad for a year. She has already been to Guatemala twice to participate in service projects and will be studying abroad in Costa Rica in the spring where she plans to take a couple marine science classes and learn Spanish.
In the long term, Moore hopes to find a career where she can mix working with people and the ocean, such as surveying the amount of clams available in communities near commercial industries to ensure residents are using what they are allotted and not over exhausting the resource.
“Working with people and the ocean sounds really appealing to me,” Moore says. “If I could find something like that, that would just work.”
Moore’s fascination with cephalopods began in high school when she took a marine science class.
“It really captivated me,” Moore said of the class that included watching videos on different marine life including cephalopods.
From then, she wanted to learn more about the creatures and wondered if she would enjoy working with them. She chose to attend UMaine for its marine science program and the comfortable feeling she got when she first stepped on campus.
“I know it might sound cheesy, but when I came to one of the summer tours, I felt like this was where I was supposed to be. I’m really glad I decided to come here and I’m really enjoying working with cephalopods,” Moore says.