I shipped off my "letter of intent" to the Whitehall Foundation today. If they okay it and I get to submit a full proposal, the full proposal will be due 15 February 2003. (By that point, I expect to have the results of the NSF grant application.)
Although the Whitehall letter was only three pages long, it was an intense three pages to prepare. Most of my research to date has been on crustaceans and insects. I'm looking to "expand my horizons" and see if I can start doing some work on ascidians. As adults, ascidians are the kinds of critter that people tend to mis-identify as "sponges" (i.e., anything non-mobile on marine piers, boat bottoms, that's not a plant or barnacle).
When they're young, though, ascidians have a little swimming tadpole that swims around to find a place to live. And when you look at this tiny little tadpole, it turns out to be a reasonably close relative to us (a chordate, if you want the technical term). These tadpoles swim around and find a place to live with a positively miniature nervous system: there are about 100 nerve cells in the entire animal. The small number of cells makes them fairly attractive for researchers.
And it just so happens that the University's Coastal Studies Lab is a great place to study these guys. These animals do not like to be away from the ocean, and every effort so far to rear them inland for any length of time has failed miserably. Yes, folks, research and real estate have something in common: Location, location, location.
I have two problems facing me in trying to start ascidian research. First, I don't know the animals very well, but I've been working hard to remedy that. Second, I've never worked on anything remotely this tiny. The whole animal is about 1 mm long. So I'm going to have to develop a whole new set of skills to do research on this beast.
Pages read of The Structure of Evolutionary Theory: 882. That's halfway through chapter 9, which is 279 pages long! Yes, a single chapter in this baby is longer than some entire books.