Update 1: Issues with my Old Project and Information on My New Project

Originally my project involved looking at gene expression in the coral species Acropora millepora in response to changes in pH. The coral that I chose to work with is unfortunately one of the most difficult corals to keep alive; I still decided to choose it because there is a lot of research already done on it and also it is crucial in coral reefs, making it really relevant. However, I tried taking care of them and they died within a day or two. Then I thought that I could instead work with the jellyfish species Cassiopea xamachana, as there are a lot of them here at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Unfortunately after this past weekend they aren’t doing too well either, for unknown reasons. I have realized that perhaps it is just not in the cards for me to work with living organisms! Thus, I have made the decision to switch to another project entirely that doesn’t involve keeping aquatic animals alive, which has proven to be quite a challenge for me. My supervisor here, Dr. Allen Collins, however, has so many samples of organisms collected from aquatic areas around the globe. Included in these samples are what are called hydroids, or hydrozoans, which are very small organisms in the phylum Cnidaria, related to corals and jellyfish. My new project will be focusing on identifying the species that are in these samples by extracting and sequencing their DNA. I am excited about this project shift, and I can’t wait to see what I find!


  1. gllesser says:

    Hi Abby, its really great to see that you’ve been so flexible with changing your project! I’m glad you were able to find a new route to take that still allowed you to work with something that interests you.
    Did you ever consider growing a different coral species? Or did a lack of data on other species prevent you from doing so? Also, are the samples obtained by your advisor living? You said you were planning on IDing the species of deep reef hydroids by sequencing their DNA. Is there a database of sequences for lots of hydrozoan species? If so, how extensive is it? Is it possible you will encounter a species that hasn’t been sequenced?
    I’m interested to see what trends you find in hydroid species distribution. If data on coastal reef hydroids exists, you may be able to compare deep and shallow reefs.
    Best of luck!

  2. rgwilmans says:

    Hi Abby! Facing those roadblocks with the living organisms must have been frustrating, but I’m glad you’ve been so flexible and are still able to study something you’re interested in. Do you have any idea what you think you’ll find with regard to identifying these species? Extracting and sequencing DNA sounds time-consuming and complex, but I’m sure you’ll be successful!

  3. Abby Jackson says:

    Thanks for your questions! I will do my best to try to answer them here.
    I did consider trying another coral species but I think I realized that I did not have the facilities to properly care for corals anyway, and the museum already had so many jellyfish for people to use. Acropora millepora is the most well-known coral species and others are less well-known, which might have been a problem if I just chose another coral. Also, the samples I am using now are not living; they are already deceased. The gene technology that we have uses a program called BLAST to search lots of databases out there that have sequences of a lot of hydrozoan species, so it is pretty extensive. There is definitely a possibility that there will be a species that has not been sequenced, despite the extensiveness of all the databases out there.

  4. Abby Jackson says:

    I’m not quite sure what we will find, since I have actually been pretty unfamiliar with hydrozoans and other marine species in the past. But I hope to find out a lot about what kinds of species live in certain areas and the biodiversity of these areas!

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