Wednesday dawned cloudy and, you guessed it, cold at Hveravellir. We huddled over our morning breakfast of toast with jam, cold cuts, and fermented shark (hákarl) while contemplating how this could possibly be August. Nevertheless, we packed up the trucks and headed off into the day. Half of our group journeyed up to Kerlingarfjoll to sample streams, ices and sediment for further analysis while the other half stayed behind for a practical test of our field extraction protocol. We set up our remote extraction on a yoga mat far from signs of habitation. Our only sources of power were the gas-powered portable generator and the car engine, which we hooked up to an electrical inverter.
Due to complications with the CP Select, we were not able to use the concentrator pipet for our extraction protocol. Instead, we extracted from soils and biofilms collected at Kerlingarfjoll the day before: one sample from the bank of a glacial outwash stream, one soil sample further away from the water source, and one soil from the trailhead at the top of the valley. We hoped to compare the yield from each of these samples to understand what would be most promising for our field sequencing and analysis run. To extract, we used the Qiagen PowerSoil kit combined with the Terralyzer to lyse cells instead of a traditional vortex.
The first thing we discovered is that it is possible to stretch latex gloves over warm wool ones to retain feeling in one’s hands. The second thing we discovered is that doing so gives one far less dexterity. Faced with the choice between dropping bits of Kerlingarfjoll all over Hveravellir and losing feeling in our fingers, we opted for the latter but climbed gratefully into the warm car whenever we needed engine power.
After about one-and-a-half hours, we looked triumphantly at the microcentrifuge tubes filled with 30 microliters of clear liquid. Had we managed to isolate the code for life itself? That question would require more work. We took a break to warm up, during which time I confirmed that none of my toes had frostbite and found a bag of grapes in the truck’s backseat, which gave us the fortification to continue. Back to the yoga mat we went, now pulling out the Qubit to ascertain our DNA concentrations. Then we had our answer: we had managed to get DNA from all of our samples, the most from the soil near the trailhead and the least from the soil on the bank of the stream. Moving forward, we hoped to sequence our results from sample x in the field, as well as completing a field extraction, sequencing, and NanoOK analysis all in the same day.