29 May 2008

What should go on the T-shirt

If I ever make a T-shirt to promote Marmorkrebs.org, I could do worse than the description I found on This Recording blog by Molly Lambert:

The Amazonian crayfish civilization

Love it!

28 May 2008


One of the animals hatched here in the my lab about 7 months ago now has eggs of her own. I can now officially say that there is a breeding colony of Marmorkrebs for research in North America.

For those who think the title of this post is a bit cryptic, this is a reference to standard notation of generations in genetics. The parental generation is considered "P"; their offspring is designated "F1", which is short for "first filial" generation, and the offspring of the F1 generation are named "F2".

In my case, the original animals I received would be the P generation. They gave me eggs of the F1 generation in late October, and this will be the start of the F2 generation.

27 May 2008

Conference season

Society for NeuroscienceSummer is prime time for most research conferences. The always thoughtful Seth Godin has a post on conferences that echo things that have been on my mind for a while.

If oil is $130 a barrel and if security adds two or three hours to a trip and if people are doing more and more business with those far afield...

and if we need to bring together more people from more places when we get together...

and if the alternatives, like video conferencing or threaded online conversations continue to get better and better, then...

I think the standard for a great meeting or a terrific conference has changed.

In other words, "I flew all the way here for this?" is going to be far more common than it used to be.

What are the online tools available that might take up some of the slack for some conferences? There are several online services. The first I became aware of was GoToMeeting.com, which was specifically marketing itself to scientists.

Lately, I've started messing around a bit with Vyew, which looks promising. They have a comparison chart on their webpage. This is handy because it points to other similar services, such as WebEx, LiveMeeting, and with a bit of tooling around, I also found Acrobat Connect. I'm trying not to turn this into an ad for any particular company, but it does point out the range of services and features available.

I am not convinced yet that these services can take the place of conferences entirely. At big conferences (like the massive Neuroscience meeting, pictured), the opportunity for serendipitous connections is just too large, and probably can't be easily replicated by an online experience. The online experience is also liable to suffer from the fact that because most people are just in their offices, they are less focused, and the event is less memorable than actual travel to a conference. And so much information is exchanged, making things memorable is a good thing.

I will be messing around with these services over the summer, not for a conference, but to work with a student who is out of town. And if that works out... who knows? A small online gathering could work very well for a smallish emerging research community.

22 May 2008

Battle in Britain

This is an older article from a UK newspaper about the invasive potential of Marmorkrebs.

At least, I'm 99% sure it's about Marmorkrebs. They quote Gerhard Scholtz and everything. But the writing is surprisingly vague. It doesn't clearly say that these are all female -- it does say "without mating," but I wonder if some people might interpret that as the animal having mated before purchase. The article refers to "marine experts," which is a little odd, since "marine" refers to oceans, and crayfish are freshwater.

It's tempting to say that it's typical of British tabloid journalism -- though I have no idea whether the Daily Mail is a tabloid or not. But look at the prose, to which I've added a little emphasis...

...carries a deadly plague...

...these alien invaders can reproduce in great numbers at great speed without mating...

...an even grimmer future...

...then the next minute her small aquarium was overrun...

...larger and more aggressive than native varieties, giving them a competitive edge in the hunt for food.

Even the "hunt for food" quote gives a misleading impression, suggesting Marmorkrebs are ravenous predators rather then generalists with a preference for vegetables.

I guess I should be glad that people are paying attention to the invasive potential of Marmorkrebs. It is a serious issue.

20 May 2008

Marmorkrebs on the road: TCS Summer 2008

I'll be attending the summer meeting of The Crustacean Society in Galveston next month. Unfortunately, I will only be there briefly, and the poster I'm presenting isn't about Marmorkrebs. I hope to talk to a few people about Marmorkrebs research projects during the poster session on the evening of Wednesday, 11 June 2008.

19 May 2008

Standard operating procedures, and lack thereof

I was looking for some more information on housing systems for researchers, and came across this interesting article in ALN Magazine about standardizing procedures for aquatic animals. ALN is a magzine for animal research labs. I obviously knew such things existed and were big operations at other institutions, but hadn't really thought that there would be an industry magazine.

Joe Sillitti writes:

Given how important the aquatic models, such as zebrafish and frogs have become, and how much emphasis is being placed on the use of these models, it is a wonder how husbandry standards have not yet been set. In the aquatic research field, even basic principles such as water quality, feeding, and breeding have not been standardized.

I am as guilty of this as anyone. My strategy so far has really been to try to intervene in the crayfish tanks as little as possible, because the animals have been molting, feeding, and reproducing. I hope to start getting serious about this as I move from an ad hoc system of pet tanks to a more standardized series of research tanks in the near future. I'll try to share what I learn here.

Speaking of animal housing, Pharmacal looks like another supplier worth talking to in regards to developing aquatic housing for Marmorkrebs research colonies. They've got systems for Xenopus (pictured) and zebrafish. I don't like the name of their system, which they call PharmHouse™ Aquatic System. To me, the name manages to bring to mind the bad connotations of both big pharma and agribusiness. But I can live with the name if their systems work.

13 May 2008

Who's talking about Marmorkrebs

It's amazing what you can learn just by using a new search engine.

I was trying out the interesting new search engine Addictomatic, and naturally, typed in "Marmorkrebs." I'll have more posts on what I found later, but I thought I would start with this little YouTube gem...

More naming thoughts

English is currently the language of science. It wasn't always so; Latin and German have held the title at various times.

But since English currently rules the roost, why do I advocate using "Marmorkrebs" in the scientific literature instead of "marbled crayfish"? Doesn't my recent story about why I registered a new domain name favour using an English name?

The main reason I advocate using "Marmorkrebs" is precisely because it isn't an English word. Hence, it is distinctive and unique. This reduces confusion, because there are no doubt many species of crayfish that could be described as "marbled."

"Marmorkrebs" also greatly facilitates web searches (increasingly a consideration), because it is a single word. If you type in "marble crayfish," you'll get pages about crayfish. You'll probably also get pages about marble, both the mineral and the kids' toys. You will also get the combination, of course, but you have a lot more chaff to sort through.

12 May 2008

Deep questions on parthenogenesis

FlaccoFlacco is one of those cultural icons who defies easy description. He's an Australian comedic and satirical observer. Sort of. He's a creation of Paul Livingston.

Flacco wryly asks many questions about parthenogenesis on this week's Science Show, courtesy of the Australian Radio National. You can listen to the audio online now – but hurry, as the audio files don't stay up indefinitely. A transcript should be up soon.

Additional: Here’s the transcript!

oday I'd like to discuss parthenogenesis. Many creatures are parthenogenetic. That is, they have no need to be fertilised. The common aphid, for example, is a parthenogenetic miracle. All aphids experience virgin birth, which makes one ponder. Perhaps Joseph’s wife Mary was parthenogenetic. Does this mean that Joseph was in fact sexually excited by aphids, certain wasps and jellyfish? Was Mother Mary a crustacean? Certain Christians don't like eating fish on Fridays. Now we know why.

And some bacteria are also parthenogenetic. These bacteria could reveal a whole new frontier if we could study their ways and perhaps adapt to parthenogenesis ourselves. Imagine if we were all self-fertilising. How do parthenogenetics fall in love? Do they date themselves before self-fertilising? Is there dinner involved? A movie perhaps? Are they monogamous? Is it possible to be jealous of yourself? Does a parthenogenetic creature mate for life? And if not, how would they cope with a divorce? Who gets the mouth?

What if you are a parthenogenetic swinger, a real parthenogenetic party animal? You throw yourself a party, accept your own invitation, then you go to the party suppliers where you purchase a packet of ice breakers, a round of introductions, two kilos of small talk, some idle chatter, a lengthy anecdote, a hearty laugh, a faux pas, two quips and three uninvited guests. And if you do get lucky and manage to get yourself drunk and crack onto yourself, you wake up in the morning, realise you’ve made a mistake, you try to creep quietly out of your own bed, you leave a note saying ‘I’ll call’ but you’ll never call back, with the result that you never see yourself again. Well, all I can say is, you only have yourself to blame.

06 May 2008

Making something great

There's a thoughtful post on the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) blog about the difficulties in creating an ambitious project like EOL.

Now that EOL is live and people have had a chance to look around, it is striking that 76% percent of visitors don’t return, and 44% of all visitors left in under 10 seconds. After the initial launch where, if anything, EOL was too popular, interest seems to have dropped off markedly. One possible reason for this is the relative lack of content. As I noted elsewhere, for many pages EOL compares unfavourably with other sites(.)

The blog mentions an interesting project called iSpecies. It's a sort of species-based multi-search. Luckily, it work from common names as well as scientific names. For Marmorkrebs, it brings up the English Wikipedia article (no surprise), but also several pictures.

ZipcodeZoo also looks interesting, although it's highly geared towards plants and vertebrates. But then, its target is naturalists, not scientists.

So despite the current content problems, Encyclopedia of Life still looks to have the best shot at becoming the point of call for scientists looking for research information on a species.

But I digress. The EOL project is struggling with high expectations and the curse of the internet age: impatience. People want a lot done instantly. I have to wonder if the prospect of spending years to make even a small dent in the problem of generating even a fraction of webpages needed could mortally wound the EOL venture. I think researchers need to see progress before they're willing to come on board in a significant way.

In many ways, the problems of the highly visible EOL project are much like those facing the fledgling Marmorkrebs community. With this website, I am deliberately trying to raise expectations about Marmorkrebs as a model organism. But if progress is too slow, people feel their expectations are not met and lose interest. It's a fine line to walk.


Marmorkrebs were recently been featured in our campus annual magazine, Panorama.

I was also the subject of some dodgy photo manipulations.

Despite the large amount of photoshopping, I will admit that the geek T-shirt with the TARDIS on it was what I actually happened to be wearing. (The picture was taken during our break; I normally don't wear it to work.) The crayleks influence maybe?

02 May 2008

A new road home

I was directing a colleague to the Marmorkrebs home page to show him what I had done, and had something of an epiphany. When I told him, "Go to marmorkrebs.org," he didn't get it. I had to spell out the entire word. letter by letter. I suppose there are lost of variant spellings that someone hearing "Marmorkebs" might try. "Marmorecrebs," "marmerkrebs," "marmurcrabs..."

If you want to direct people to this site, you might have an easier time telling them to visit:


This redirects to the regular Marmorkrebs.org home page. I may update the masthead to reflect the double domain name.