Research, 60 Years in the Making


After six decades, a long-dormant research paper about a little-known crustacean is finally seeing daylight thanks to Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego scientists who wouldn’t let a dusty manuscript die.

The story begins with young Edward Brinton notching a significant accomplishment early in his scientific career. In 1953, as a Scripps graduate student, he published a research paper reporting the discovery of a new species of a rare deep-sea invertebrate. The mysterious crustacean, commonly known as krill, stands out as a giant at more than 12 centimeters (4.7 inches) compared with its tiny 1-6 cm (.39-2.3 inch) relatives that live in shallower waters.

Thus Brinton made himself and Martin Johnson, his advisor, quite proud when his discovery was published in a scientific journal. (Johnson was a famed oceanographer who helped define modern oceanography with his co-authorship of  “The Oceans,” the field’s first comprehensive textbook.)

Not wasting any time, Brinton quickly moved onto his next project. This time he decided to tackle a description of the early life stages of another giant krill, Thysanopoda egregia. Off he went, hammering away at a rough draft on a manual typewriter. But Brinton didn’t yet have enough samples to flesh out his analysis and complete the manuscript.

While most krill live in the upper portions of the ocean and are a known food staple of baleen whales, adult Thysanopoda egregia, or “giant euphausiids,” as Brinton called them, spend their days 1,000 to 2,000 meters (3,280 to 6,561 feet) below the surface, making them challenging to collect and study.

Thus Brinton set the early manuscript aside while engaged in other projects but kept an eye out for new specimens to help round out the research. Years became decades and still the paper wasn’t complete. Over the course of time, Brinton and his associates sorted through more than 10,000 plankton samples—originating from more than 259 research cruises archived at Scripps—in pursuit of the rare deep-sea krill larvae. Sadly, Brinton died in 2010 without seeing the research come to fruition.

Now, Brinton’s research, 60 years in the making, will finally be published thanks to his Scripps colleagues who picked up where his typewritten rough draft began and completed the analyses. Using earlier contributions from the late Scripps researcher Margaret Knight, they will publish the research in Brinton’s honor in the March 2013 issue of the Journal of Crustacean Biology.

“Ed didn’t have quite enough specimens to finish the morphological analysis that was required,” said Annie Townsend, a longtime colleague of Brinton’s who is a former collection manager for the Scripps Pelagic Invertebrate Collection and coauthor of the new paper. “We decided to complete the work he started because we knew we could piece it together with the resources in the collection.”

Taking up where Brinton left off, Townsend and Mark Ohman, curator of the Pelagic Invertebrate Collection, finished the job of detailing Thysanopoda egregia’s early life history. They modified parts of Brinton’s work, added two life stages that completed the progression of development, augmented Brinton’s early illustration of the species, and completed a worldwide map of its biogeographic distribution.

Critical to the work was the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI), a 64-year monitoring program based at Scripps that provides samples for Scripps’s Oceanographic Collections, including many of the rare specimens required to complete the new paper.

“You can’t go anywhere else in the world to get the samples of these critters that were required,” said Townsend, “except here in the Pelagic Invertebrate Collection.”

“This is curiosity-based research, striving to understand the basic diversity of life in the ocean,” said Ohman. “This provides the raw materials for future studies and it was driven by curiosity about what’s out there and how it fits into the deep-sea community.”


-- Mario C. Aguilera


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