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Q & A with Anniken Lydon

Graduate student Anniken Lydon in her lab on campus. Photo by Katie Grady

Anniken Lydon

Graduate Student in the Biological Sciences Department at Cal Poly

What are you working on at Cal Poly?

Currently I’m working on a project looking at population genetics of a macroalgal species in the arctic. What that entails is doing a bunch of DNA extractions of this species that I was able to collect through some collaborators in Norway and bring them back into the lab here. I’m trying to use some new DNA sequencing techniques and equipment to actually get a better resolution of these particular microsatellite regions we’re actually looking at. Seeing if this new pyrosequencer can actually do this for us it will make everything a lot quicker. I’m currently stuck in the DNA extraction PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) phase, which takes a lot of troubleshooting so I’ve been working mostly in the lab since I got back from the arctic.

You said you did your undergraduate at Cal Poly and performed your senior project at Cal Poly’s Marine Sciences Pier. What did that work include?

As far as undergraduate work that I did at the pier, I focused on a project with Nikki Adams looking at sea urchin embryos and how susceptible they are to UV (ultraviolet) damage when they are floating in the plankton. That entailed collecting sea urchins and we usually would house them in our aquarium here on campus and then before we were going to go do an exposure experiment we would carry all the urchins out there with us in a big cooler. We’d have to bring like 10 urchins to make sure that we were able to get one female that had enough eggs and also make sure that we had some males there to actually be able to do the fertilization out at the pier. So we’d bring all of our equipment out there, we’d do the fertilization, we’d put them in the bags that we had and then we’d put them under certain screens.

One was a control, which was just exposed to natural UV levels and the other one we put under a protective filter. We then submerged them in the water for about a half an hour and then we would bring them back up and then post fertilization we would sample, I think it was after 70 minutes, we would sample every 20 minutes for the embryos during their development and then we’d lyse open the cells, get out their proteins and look at different protein expression over time. And also trying to correlate the proteins expressed within the embryos with their division time, their first mitotic division.

I worked on that for probably about a year and half at the pier and one of the nice things they have now with the seawater system and everything that they have out there, currently they are actually able to do those experiments a lot easier then having to do what we did when I was an undergrad here. You would pack up all your equipment, you’d drive down there, do your exposure, you collect your samples and you drive back here as fast as you can because those protein samples, it’s really important to make sure they get on ice as quickly as possible.

What they used to do before I even started working on the project was they would do all of the spawning and exposures out there but before sampling they would actually drive back to cal poly, which was a lot more hectic and crazy because you had 40 minutes to pack up all your stuff, get it back in your van, come back to campus bring it up to the lab and then start trying to do your sampling so it was really really crazy. Now having the facilities out there I think has allowed a lot more people to have their senior projects be worked on out there as well as having more ease of accessibility for different facilities out there, for the environment out there as well also not having it have to be so crazy when your doing all of your sampling. It’s been some good changes.

When was this transition?

The transition for the construction actually started right after I finished with my undergrad. I think they started doing the construction then. I finished in 2007 and they started I think that year kind of starting to prepare the pier. Where the current tank rooms and seawater system is just used to be concrete, so we just had a lab room that used to be the Unocal offices and it has a couple microscopes and things like that. It’s come a long way since I was an undergrad and I think they have some plans to continue with the development , but it’s been a long road just to get that seawater system put in and for the people that work out there, Jason Felton and Tom Waylen to be sure that the systems are running properly and maintenance goes ok and so it’s a lot of work for them out there too.

Where does funding for the pier come from?

The funding for the pier, I believe and I’m not totally sure, there’s some type of a grant that was given to the university in order to support research and maintenance on the pier. There’s some type of a fund where it’s completely designated for the pier, but I’m not exactly sure where that comes from. It’s kind of magic to me.

What future changes would you like to see brought to the pier?

For future changes to the pier I think it would be really great if they were actually able to accommodate a lot more classes out there so having some type of big classroom facility. The ability to have more microscopes and have students actually do experiments out there. There are some graduate students and undergraduate students working on research out there, but maybe to have it be a fulltime classroom area for people to actually get out in the environment and do ecology and maybe even do some stuff in the lab because we would have some type of a lab facility out there. That would be really great.  I think with what they have out there right now they do a really great job of getting classes out there and getting people exposed to the opportunities you have to do research out there, but I still think not a lot of students know about that especially undergraduate students that you can get involved with different labs and actually go and do work out there. It’s a great way to get lab experience so that when you go out into the job market you can so oh yeah I have a year of lab work but along with that lab work I was also out collecting samples so its environmentally relevant to experiments. I think that would be one of the biggest changes I’d like to see is actually expanding the area and being able to support more students.  Research out there as well as education out there would be great.

Have you add any odd or exciting experiences on the pier as far as wildlife goes?

As far as exciting, for a marine ecology course, when we were out there in the afternoon we saw whales. The whale actually came right off the end of the pier and it wasn’t breeching, but it was making it through the surface. We could actually see the whales really really close which was awesome.

I’ve gotten to do some really cool experiments being in Mark Moline’s lab out there, some cool night time experiments with bioluminescence so when you have your diver in the water, your diver is kicking around and making this light around him due to the bioluminescent organisms that are in the water, which is pretty cool to see.

When you’re out there you always see different organisms and its just so amazing to be out in this beautiful environment and usually the weather is nice, occasionally its not. You usually always see bait balls and organisms feeding. At night, if you have lights on at the pier you can get a bunch of fish that will come into the light, an then you get squid, and you get sea lions that are feeding too. It’s pretty cool to see.

Anniken Lydon is in her third year in the graduate program at Cal Poly. She is currently an assistant teacher for a course in Marine Ecology. If you have further questions about Anniken’s research you can contact her at


Posted October 21, 2010 by calpolymarine

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