As Chuck and Maggie, in full scuba regalia, were working their way slowly up an undersea rock wall this past Monday, Diane (our volunteer dive tender from the support staff that day) and I caught our first glimpses of the ARSV (Antarctic Research Support Vessel) Gould steaming around Cape Lancaster and up the Bismarck Strait towards Palmer Station. Aboard were two more members of our research team, Bill Baker, the third co-leader of our research program, and his graduate student, Alan Maschek.
With Chuck and Maggie back in the boat, and all of us eager to welcome Bill and Alan, we headed back to the station. Out timing was impeccable. Because our boating coordinator wanted our boat for handling the lines of the ship as she docked, we were allowed to return to Palmer Station first. We all enjoyed a good chuckle. We in our small zodiac had held a 240 foot ship at bay!
Bill grew up in Salinas in central California not far from the crashing surf and rocky shores of the deep blue Pacific waters of Monterey Bay, where such famous authors and poets as John Steinbeck and Robinson Jeffers wrote of their love for the sea. An undergraduate student at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Bill frequented the stunning coastal environments of the Big Sur while his academic interests began to lean towards chemistry.
At some point in this ontogeny Bill figured out that it was possible to wed his interests in chemistry with the sea, and he set off with his young California bride to the University of Hawaii to pursue his graduate and postdoctoral work in one of the most prestigious marine natural products chemistry laboratories in the world.
Many years ago, when our Antarctic marine chemical ecology program was truly in its infancy, through a remarkable series of unlikely events, Bill and I joined forces, writing a successful proposal and meeting face to face for the first time as we headed off to McMurdo Station.
I had just about given up trying to find a marine chemist willing to leave the warmth of their laboratory and venture to Antarctica, when Bill came in to the picture. He brought with him an enthusiasm and knowledge of marine ecology unlike any chemist I had ever met. Moreover, he loved to scuba dive, and most importantly, like Chuck, he brings a synergy to our marine chemical ecology research program that has paid many dividends.
Alan Maschek, bearded and looking like he would fit right in at Palmer Station, smiled broadly as he strode for the first time on to Antarctic soil. Prior to joining Bill’s laboratory at the University of South Florida, he completed his undergraduate degree in chemistry at Texas A&M.
Once at USF, Alan dove into marine natural products chemistry, quite literally, accompanying Bill on dive collecting trips to the Florida Keys. Little did he know at the time that these tropical excursions would translate in to an opportunity to pursue chemistry in much colder waters!
During the balance of our current field season Bill and Alan will be focusing their efforts on developing a more thorough understanding of the chemical nature of algal and invertebrate defenses towards crustacean predators. More specifically, they plan to investigate the metabolic origin of compounds known as “tryptophan catabolites” that we have discovered in three closely related Antarctic sponges. These compounds are similar in structure to molt inhibition compounds seen in terrestrial plants and used against their insect predators. It is possible that these compounds may play a role in short circuiting the molt cycle of amphipod predators, a remarkable co-evolutionary adaptation never before documented in marine organisms.
The ARSV Gould departs tomorrow for Punta Arenas, Chile. But it will return in several weeks with yet another of our field team members, Philip Bucolo, another doctoral student working with Chuck. We’re looking forward to introducing you to Philip when he arrives! Maybe we will time our dive that day to have another excuse to divert a ship!