Enjoying the little things

Maira Maselli, MixITiN ESR7, finding balance in life through the study of kleptoplastidic mixoplankton

December 2019

Studying GNCM helps me understand why biology is defined as a discipline; understanding a discipline only comes with practice. Good practice requires focus and focus has to be practiced in the light of additional consciousness derived from experience.

To study kleptoplastidic ciliates I had to practice a lot to pick single cells, and doing it as fast as possible to preserve the experimental conditions but at the same time gentle enough to not damage these fragile organisms. It requires a lot of focus to keep the count after isolating the first 50 to 60 cells.

It also requires practice (and muscles) to mix 20L tanks before sampling. And, this needs to be done without creating too much turbulence that could cause the ciliates to blow up! This requires a lot of focus especially when ten whales are trying to attract attention by dancing outside the ship-laboratory window; this happened to me when I was on a cruise in Greenland last summer.

The discipline of biology is teaching me to develop self-control – to not touch my head when wearing gloves no matter how much it is itching, and self-organization – remembering to insert my mealtimes in the sampling plan! Science requires objectiveness and from experience, I can say that objectiveness is linked to getting enough food. Also, when studying small-scale interactions every detail can really matter and it is not easy to balance this consciousness without becoming paranoid (I am still working on this).

Studying biology is making me change: changing countries various times and habits even more often. I moved from Italy to Denmark and have undertaken secondments in The Netherlands and Germany. Studying ecophysiology is studying how living systems react to changes while attempting to maintain a condition of equilibrium even if that would require expending lots of energy. And, this is what I am also learning to do.

Keeping the balance in a variable environment (such as the ocean) requires plasticity. During my studies, I get to know many ways to do that and that is not only among plankton experiments. In studying plankton ecophysiology, I am learning to recognise the importance of details, to look at the big pictures from different perspectives.

My current interest in plankton ecophysiology represents my wish for my future and to everyone for the New Year: have big plans but enjoy the little things …like plankton.