Walking around the main lab here, you'll hear two main languages: English and Hebrew. You've met the PI's speaking English: Ana Martins, Jack DiTullio, Kay Bidle, and Marco Coolen. The Hebrew comes from a group from the Weizmann Institute in Israel, and their principal investigator is Assaf Vardi.
Assaf and Kay are long time friends and colleagues. Assaf was one of Kay's first post doctoral researchers at Rutgers University, where together they investigated programmed cell death. Now, Assaf runs a lab at the Weizmann Institute Department of Plant Sciences where his team studies phytoplankton.
On board, Assaf's group has lots of interests. They want to know how the cells in a bloom might communicate with "infochemicals" - chemicals that might serve as signals between different cells. We talked in an earlier post about how Ehux cells sometimes go through programmed cell death to keep the virus from replicating inside of them. The Vardi group wants to know: do these infochemicals tell them when to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the bloom? When do those infochemicals get released? What genes are turned on when these infochemicals are sensed, and how do those genes lead to cell death?
Assaf has several colleagues with him to help answer these questions (some of whom you've met in earlier posts). Miguel Frada is an Ehux identifier extraordinaire, and helped discover the Cheshire Cat strategy we talked about earlier on this blog. Daniella Schatz is sequencing DNA of various organisms, from copepods to Ehux to the virus that infects it. Uri Sheyn -- initially attracted to oceanography because of his love of surfing -- is one of Assaf's first graduate students in his new lab.
Also along from Weismann is a group working on something quite different from biology: aerosols. Yoav Lehahn and Shlomit Sharoni are here hoping to find traces of aerosols that Ehux gives off. We talked about DMS in an earlier post -- that's the gas that Ehux releases. They're trying to detect it in the atmosphere. They've got filters and sensors rigged up the masts, and also in their own dedicated lab towards the bow.
I will admit that of all the scientist on board, Assaf was the most intimidating to me at first. He's tall, and he looks at you intently and quietly as you speak no matter what kind of wacky rambling train of thought you might be on. That tends to throw me into an even more wacky, even more rambling train of thought than I'd been on before.
But my anxiety was totally unfounded. Assaf is super nice and genuinely patient (even with me and all my rambling) and curious about virtually everything.
Asking Assaf about what he dislikes most about the ship, and he answers without hesitating: his wife Nivi Alroy and their son Michael aren't onboard. Assaf shows me pictures of his son, who really does look like he should be in kids magazines, and the wonderful and whimsical art of his wife who often illustrates scientific concepts. After spending years in science, his family, he says with a smile, is "the best experiment I ever tried."
Plus, it's both Assaf and Yoav's birthdays today! Happy birthday on the high seas!
During this trip, I’ll be answering your questions about the science, this ship, and life onboard. Want to know how we search for plankton, why we’re here, or what the food is like? Just ask me! And if you’re wondering how I got here, check out the groups that made this adventure possible: Mind Open Media and COSEE NOW.
Previously in this series: