Patterns Hold the Clues: Solving Spring Moralities in Oysters

I’ve created a story board for the outline of my project.  I envision creating a stop-motion animation which details the problem my project is tackling and what I hope is a “sticky” analogy for characterizing oyster reproduction.   The main problem detailed is that when oysters die, there typically is no corpse to biopsy for cause of death, just an empty shell.  Therefore, we need to ask questions about the survivors-what about them is different than the oysters that died?  More specifically, what is the important difference when it comes to mortality.  Given oysters are dying in the spring, it probably has to do with reproduction.  I want to show the variance in the oyster sexual development, and I plan to do that by making the analogy of an oyster’s reproductive system with a tree.  In the winter, the oyster’s reproductive system is dormant, and therefore the “tree” is a pruned back and has no leaves.  As the water warms up the “branches” (follicles) grow outwards and then leaves(eggs) start growing off of the branches, until you are left with a tree full of branches and leaves (ripe oyster).  Using this analogy, I detail the different sexual patterns we have seen in commercial (and supposedly sterile) oysters, and end the video with the point that in order to find out why the oysters are dying, we need to know the proportion of the population that exhibits each pattern before and after the mortality event, which is what I’ve done for my project.

In the story board, each large square represents the image and the text below is the narration (N) or the sound effect (S).  For now, the whole thing does not operate as a stop motion, as the first few slides are stand-alone.  I am thinking that I could try to do the stop motion on the computer with something as simple as having a picture in powerpoint, tweaking it a little, and taking a picture or just saving the picture of the adjusted image.  I am planning to try this out in the very near future to assess if this is a feasible route.



Project Proposal

Over the last few years, several commercial oyster growers in Virginia have reported significant mortality events of their oysters during the spring and summer months.  The summer of 2014 was the worst on record, as growers across the state reported summer mortality, most severe on the Eastern shore and in some cases as high as 85% of the crop (Karen Hudson, personal communication).  Severe mortality events like that in 2014 are of major concern to industry stakeholders.  As an industry collaborator put it, “this is a matter of the viability of the oyster aquaculture industry in Virginia.”

My research team is in a unique position to address this issue because we’ve deployed genetically different oysters to previously affected commercial farms and have been gathering data since February of this year.  In the late spring, we witnessed a mortality event at one of the commercial farms specific to only the triploid oysters. No other significant mortality events were observed across our other sites.  Our mission now is to scientifically determine what was different about these oysters that caused a significant number of them to die.  The research will be foundational to understanding the gene x environment interaction that is causing summer mortality events of commercial oysters.

The industry stakeholders, namely the farmers and hatchery managers, are very interested in this research because they want to know why the oysters are dying.  It currently remains a mystery, and given the timing of this workshop, I will likely not have the ‘smoking gun’ to communicate in my product.  In lieu of the answer, I’d like to share the crux of the analysis we are undertaking to get at the answer.  With a better understanding of our analysis, I think the stakeholders will appreciate the strides we are making to get the answers and will gain confidence that we are capable of addressing the problem.

My goal is to produce a clear, jargon-less, non-traditional form of communicating the ideas behind our lab work so that the industry stakeholders gain a better understanding of how we are addressing the issue.   I think the best way to do this is by developing a short video that explains the big topics we are investigating through our analysis in the lab.  These big topics are the variation in reproductive development in triploids and the associated health of these oysters.   Ideally, the audio would be able to stand alone so I could disseminate that separately.  I’m inspired by Abby Lunstrum’s stop-motion photography animation, and think that may be the route I will go, however I’m not big on arts and crafts.  I am considering other ways to produce the images besides drawing and cutting.