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Jan. 25, 2013

Caring for RIKEN’s aquatic animals

Animal technician team

photo of Animal technician team

Laboratory of Evolutionary Morphology, RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology

How long have you worked at RIKEN?

We began working at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) in 2003 (Ms. Shibuya) and 2006 (Ms. Yamamoto). At that time, we were in charge of breeding and raising zebrafish for research. This is now our third year of working in the Laboratory for Evolutionary Morphology, where we deal with a more diverse range of animals.

Please tell us about your work at RIKEN.

Our laboratory houses a variety of aquatic animals including 80 cloudy catsharks, 40 axolotls, 20 bichirs, 20 gars, numerous lancelets, 30 zebrafish, 30 African clawed frogs and 1 lungfish. On a daily basis we feed the animals, test and change the aquarium water, and switch our aquarium tanks. The two of us work part-time at the research aquarium, each undertaking three days per week on rotation. We both share the same responsibilities in the laboratory.

How did you become interested in working at RIKEN?

The work that we could perform at the RIKEN CDB was quite unique compared to ordinary part-time jobs. Also, the opportunity to work at a famous research laboratory in Kobe, where we live, was very intriguing.

What parts of your job require special attention?

The animals are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment, which can affect their appetites. We always try to keep their living conditions stable so that they will eat a lot, grow healthily and produce many eggs that can be used for experiments. Since most of the animals in our laboratory do not easily produce eggs, we are very happy and relieved when we find them.

Also, because the animals we raise are aquatic, it is important to maintain excellent water quality. They are directly affected by changes to the water, and may become ill or produce fewer eggs as a result. Therefore, we always closely monitor their well-being and any fluctuations in water quality.

What are some difficult aspects of your job?

Whenever we begin to raise a new type of animal, many conditions must be checked to ensure that the environment is suitable for them. Additionally, some animals depend on diatom algae for their diet, but growing this kind of algae in the laboratory can be a challenging trial-and-error process.

What are some memorable experiences you have had at RIKEN?

Animals have been known to jump out of the aquariums! One time a gar—which has a large body and long ‘spear-like’ jaws—managed to propel itself straight up and through a 10-centimeter-wide hole in the lid of the aquarium. It bounced off the wall behind the tank, landed on the floor, and set off a frantic search for the lead researcher to come and assist us! Another time, we found an axolotl walking around on the laboratory floor. These were very memorable incidents for us.

What is the best thing about working at RIKEN?

We have the chance to work with rare species, which is a unique experience. Also, as most of our work can be done independently, we have a lot of autonomy in setting up apparatus and can work at our own pace. The researchers entrust us with a variety of tasks for raising the animals, which makes our work particularly enjoyable.