Mackinac Island

Previous Post About Bois Blanc Island: Round Island

My uncle's piloting the family motor boat into Mackinac.
My uncle’s piloting the family motor boat into Mackinac.

Mackinac is another weirdly pronounced island name like Bois Blanc (Bob-lo). Mackinac is pronounced Mackinaw.

Mackinac Island was the original tourist location in Northern Michigan before Bois Blanc Island and it still attracts thousands of people per day.

Initially, Mackinac Island was a trading post for the local Ojibwa Native Americans. They brought furs to trade with European settlers. The Europeans then took the furs east and sold them.

The traders chose Mackinac to conduct business because it is well situated at the junction between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. People could easily reach Mackinac by boat from all over the Northwest Territory.

Twice a year there is a big sailing contest that fills the port up with colorful sails. Didn't catch the contest this year though.
Twice a year there is a big sailing contest that fills the port up with colorful sails. Didn’t catch the contest this year though.

Since Mackinac was the center of this trade it was important for the British to defend it.

The British built Fort Mackinac on the south side of the island to protect and control the fur trade.

As the fur trade died out it became replaced by tourism in the late 1800s.

Millions of people visit Mackinac Island every year, but what do they all do there?

There are gift shops, arcades, toy stores, fudge shops (Mackinac Island fudge is the best in the world), and tons of state park space to explore.

Fort Mackinac is now a historical site where costumed employees will tell you what life on the frontier was like in the 1800s.

There's a soldier down on the parade grounds giving a history lesson to some other tourists.
There’s a soldier down on the parade grounds giving a history lesson to some other tourists.

There are a few other historical buildings sprinkled around the island including an old doctor’s house and a beautiful church.

My favorite attraction on Mackinac is the Butterfly House.

It’s a little house on the hill behind the beautiful church.

The house connects to a greenhouse filled with hundreds of butterflies from all over the world.

The butterflies flap around and land on flowers and people who are sitting still while instrumental music plays through overhead speakers.

A picture doesn’t really capture the whole experience, but here’s one of my better ones when a butterfly landed on a flower.

So pretty! These two were chasing each other around the house before landing here.
So pretty! These two were chasing each other around the house before landing here.

It’s like stepping into a greenhouse full of flowers, only the flowers are flying around over your head, dancing.

My wife and I got some delicious Mackinac Island fudge before being picked up by my uncle in the family motor boat for the return trip to Bois Blanc Island.

-Mister Ed

Next Post About Bois Blanc Island: A Typical Day on the Island

Small Leg Injury

dammit, tim. 

So this afternoon I injured my leg. I took a picture of it, but it looks nasty. I decided you should get a picture of a beaver and his friends instead.

I hurt my leg while at work. It’s not broken or anything like that. I received a cut in a strange way.

You see we have these rolling tables at work for putting rice plants on at the greenhouse.

The tables are designed for maximum storage capacity. I’d guess that their dimensions are 5’x8′ (1.52mx2.44m).

The tables are supported by two long sliders.

Two rollers rest perpendicular along both sliders, one at each end.

The chain link fence material table then rests on top of that.

The rice plants then go on top of that.

The purpose of this is so that the table can roll back and forth.

There are four tables in the greenhouse, two on each side with a pathway through the middle.

The default position of the tables is to be rolled back against the walls.

The whole thing is designed to save horizontal space.

The tables can be rolled out into the pathway and one can go behind them to reach the plants on that side of the table.

It works great and its actually a lot of fun to roll the tables back and forth.

But since the whole thing is to save space, the greenhouse gets a little cramped.

Today while I was disposing of some old plants I rolled the table out to reach the back plants.

I placed my leg incorrectly and the table rolled over it, pinching my skin.

The injury looks kind of weird. Like a mix between a bruise and a snake bite. I think it looks most like the head of this guy from Star Wars.

Anyways, kinda nasty.

A lot of other cool stuff has been happening lately too. Father’s Day for one!

More posts on that stuff soon.

-Mister Ed

Disposing of GMOs

The rice we grow in one of my lab's greenhouses.
The rice we grow in one of my lab’s greenhouses.

Yesterday I was working out at the greenhouse for my rice genetics lab.

I was getting rid of some old rice plants that we’d collected the seed from and no longer needed.

If a plant got to this point in a garden you’d normally throw it in the compost so it would be useful next year.

That’s not allowed for the rice we work with in my lab because it is an untested transgenic line.

Some members of the public dislike altering the genetics of food crops to create genetically modified organisms (GMOs). There are a couple of logical reasons for this and a couple of illogical ones.

Logical reasons include: religious objection, lack of crop diversification, cross-species allergens, and the strengthening of agribusiness monopolies that often accompanies GMO crop use.

Illogical reasons often have something to do with safety or not knowing what is in a product when you purchase it at the grocery store.

I could go on about this a lot. GMOs are a complex topic with a lot of ground to cover, but that wasn’t why I was writing this post today.

Because of the fear of GMOs, they need to go through extensive testing before they are declared legally safe. This testing can take up to ten years.

We don’t do that for every strain of modified rice in our lab, so certain precautions need to be taken.

Yesterday I cut off all the excess seeds on the old rice plants. The seeds go into a plastic bag.

The seed bag and the leftover portion you can see above both go into an orange dumpster at the center of the greenhouse complex.

All the stuff in the orange dumpster then goes into a special oven that ensures the modified crops won’t somehow get into the wild and start growing there.

After the special oven, called an autoclave, has destroyed the genetic material in the rice it can go into a normal dumpster or be used for compost.

Just another little glimpse at my job!

-Mister Ed

Exhausting Day

Really long day at work today.

I got to work today to count some germinated rice seeds.

Rice grows best if its put into water to sprout before planted in dirt.

My lab puts the rice seeds into petri dishes in an incubator and waits a week before transfering them into pots at the greenhouse.

I checked to see which seeds had germinated in the incubator and two out of the hundred I put there last week had failed to germinate.

I redid those two for next week, then I set out for the greenhouse.

I wasn’t planting those germinated seeds yet though. First, I collected seeds from one of our older crops of plants.

Then I came back to drop of the collected seeds and grab the germinated seeds.

I went out to a different greenhouse in a fenced in area.

I’d set up the pots to plant them in earlier this week, but the watering system hadn’t been set up for them.

I don’t know how to set it up, so I called my boss and he sent over someone to help me with it.

He helped me put it together and taught me how to set up the dripper water system myself next time.

I realized I’d forgotten to bring labels for my plants, so I asked that guy to go bring them for me.

I started planting the rice and he came back later with some labels, but they were the wrong ones.

I apologized for not being specific enough about which labels I needed and sent him back to get the right ones.

He found them and brought them back around 5.

I stayed there until about 6 to finish planting all the seeds.

The gates for the fence around the greenhouses close at 5.

I called my boss for the combination on the gate lock, but my cell reception was bad and he kept cutting out.

I ending up lifting my bike over the 7 foot fence and then climbing over after it.

I got home with my back side covered in water from carrying the germinated seeds around in their petri dishes full of water and extremely tired from working in greenhouses for about 6 hours.

Gonna sleep like a log tonight.

-Mister Ed

Rice Genomics

My lab bench at the rice genetics lab I work in.
My lab bench at the rice genetics lab I work in.

One of my jobs is working with introns in C. elegans and the other is working on rice genetics.

Above is a picture of my lab bench in the rice genetics lab where I do most of my work.

The rice are kept in three separate greenhouses spread around the western fringes of the college campus. The furthest greenhouse is a little over a mile from the lab.

The technology and staff at the greenhouse complex essentially takes care of the rice for me. They’re checked on once a week by someone in the lab.

About once a month we collect leaves from the rice plants.

I grind the leaves up and extract the DNA from them.

The DNA then gets sent to the Joint Genome Institute to be sequenced.

Sequencing is when the genetic code is read in its entirety to see each letter within it.

The entirety of an organism’s genetic code is called the organism’s genome.

JGI reads the rice genome, then uploads it to the internet for researchers around the world to use.

The rice genome has already been sequenced, so why are we doing it again?

The first time the rice genome was sequenced there were a lot of errors in it. Rereading the sequence now will hopefully rectify those errors.

There’s another project going on at the same time as that though.

I am not isolating DNA from “vanilla” rice, but over 2500 different mutant varieties that were created in my lab.

The sequencing will find a bunch of little errors within the rice genome.

Researchers who are interested in specific errors can then ask my lab to send them some rice seed of that particular mutant variety.

Those researchers get what they want easily and my lab gets a little bit of money for selling the seed.

The mutant varieties don’t “taint” the overall sequence because they only contain errors in a few places. The consensus sequence between them will remain the same.

I’m just a little part in that sequencing project that’s taken almost a decade at this point. I won’t be the one to finish it either, but I’m moving the ball closer to the finish line!

-Mister Ed