Grace Tsai – Institute of Nautical Archaeology Institute of Nautical Archaeology Sun, 18 Feb 2018 21:37:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 New Bacteria Species in Salted Beef Mon, 29 Jan 2018 06:02:04 +0000 By Grace Tsai

Winter break was both exciting and stressful. Exciting because we received some unexpected results from the microbial laboratory work, but stressful because we were rushing to have the results ready in time to present them at the Society for Historical Archaeology conference in New Orleans.

Grace Tsai, SBSB’s principal investigator, presenting at the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) Annual Conference. Photo by Rogelio Casas


Erika Davila presenting on the microbiological work from the Ship Biscuit & Salted Beef Research Project. Photo by Rogelio Casas

Although we had isolated several pure culture strains, we only had time to do DNA extractions and send off 10 samples from the salted beef for sequencing, as one of our presentations focused primarily on the microbes from salted beef itself. We received the sequencing results only 2 days before we were scheduled to present! Three of the samples were fungal, so the lab was unable to process them in the short amount of time we had.

Dr. Elizabeth Latham identified the 7 bacterial samples by comparing the DNA results from the laboratory with a master database. Our samples revealed that every single sample was a different genus.

The 7 bacterial samples with their genus and species isolated from salted beef.

In fact, 3 of the 7 bacterial samples were entirely new species. This is not what we had hypothesized, because we were expecting the extremely salty brine to prevent most taxa from growing, and for any microbes to be halophiles (bacteria that love salt). It’s too early to say the exact function, if any, of these microbes on meat preservation or decay, or even their predicted effect on the health of those who consumed it. However, it is interesting to note that it took the beef approximately 30 minutes of heavy boiling before it was deemed sterile, so it is possible that the sailors’ food was not teeming with bacteria when consumed if they boiled it for long periods. We have yet to find any historical documents noting how long meat was boiled on ships–we assume more than 30 minutes given the amount of time it takes to get a cauldron boiling, but without any historical or archaeological evidence this is only conjecture. Moreover, even if the sailors were able to kill all the microbes in their meat, this does not guarantee safety because bacteria can produce toxins that are not always destroyed with heat.

Many have questioned the reason we believe we will find beneficial microorganisms (probiotics) in the food especially given that the sailor diet is almost always unhealthy and unsanitary in historical texts. Our hypothesis is that although the modernization of food brought food security, maintenance of hygiene and sanitization, and standardization of food reproducibility, it also reduced the types and amounts of microbes humans ate in the past as a whole.  Recent studies note that communities practicing pre-industrial foodways have a lower frequency of obesity, diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases and many other chronic non-infectious diseases, and that the decrease in such diseases was also correlated to an increase in gut microbiome diversity (O’dea, 1984; Martínez et al., 2015). Modernization eliminated a lot of good and bad bacteria. Now that we have recreated historical shipboard foods using the near exact ingredients and methodology as in the past, we hope we may find these microorganisms that were eaten in the past, both the good and the bad.

This semester started off with such exciting results and we look forward to what the rest of this year will bring!

Note: For those who do not know what probiotics are, or how they work, here is a useful website that explains simply what probiotics are and what they do.

Recent Progress for the Ship Biscuit & Salted Beef Research Thu, 07 Dec 2017 05:24:57 +0000 As the semester draws to an end, many are perhaps wondering about our research status. Research assistant, Emelie Nelson, shares our newest results and progress in this post.

What were 17th-Century Sailors actually eating? How did their diet affect their health?

by Emelie Nelson

These two important questions serve as the basis for “Ship Biscuit and Salted Beef Research Project.”  To answer these questions, a two-month sea voyage simulation was conducted. All food and beverage items were handmade, following 17th-century recipes.

Beginning in August 2017, barrels of wine, water, salted beef, salted cod, and biscuits were loaded into the iron hull of Elissa in Galveston, Texas. These barrels remained on the ship for approximately two months (even through the tumultuous Hurricane Harvey). Contrary to what one may initially expect, Hurricane Harvey ironically contributed to the accuracy of the simulation because the simulation was modeled after Warwick, a ship that sunk in a hurricane off the coast of Bermuda.

Every few days, members of the team retrieved samples from the barrels to test for bacterial growth and to perform nutritional analysis.

The Loading of the Barrels. Emelie Nelson.

Why is this relevant, you might ask?

It has been hypothesized that exposure to pathogens, such as in the case of 17th century sailors, may strengthen the human immune system. This idea is known as the Hygiene Hypothesis. If  “Ship Biscuit and Salted Beef Research Project” can identify the types of pathogens that 17th century sailors most likely encountered in their diet, the results of the investigation can be used to better understand the Hygiene Hypothesis.

Furthermore, present-day safety measures that help to ensure the safety of our food not only kill the bad bacteria (ie. pathogens) that make us sick but also the good bacteria (ie. probiotics) that keep our guts healthy.  Therefore, if  “Ship Biscuit and Salted Beef Research Project” can also identify the good bacteria present in the diet of 17th Century Sailors (prior to modern food and safety regulations) we can potentially put them back into our diet! Pretty cool, huh?

What does this mean for our project going forward?

In the upcoming months, our project will attempt to isolate the probiotics that are present in our samples and perform genomic sequencing.  We will be using techniques such as PCR, gel electrophoresis, and 16S rRNA sequencing. To read more about probiotics and their importance, visit:

Brewing Up Knowledge with Brigadoon Sun, 19 Nov 2017 00:13:28 +0000 By Emily Bandy

This past weekend the team took a trip out to the Renaissance Festival (known to the public as Ren Fest) in Todd Mission, TX to learn about 17th century beer brewing. It was my first time at Ren Fest, and my first time seeing brewing in process. I didn’t have any expectations coming on this trip, but when I saw festival attendees in crazy costumes I could only assume this was going to be quite a unique experience.  

Our team arrived bright and early to Brigadoon Brewery where the brewmaster, Alan Ward, explained the basics of the brewing process. The recipe, derived from Sir William Harrison’s Description of Elizabethan England, was only a few steps but took the entire day to brew!

Team member, John McQuitty, pouring milled grains into mash tun.

In addition to the length of the brewing process, we were unaware of the amount of science behind it. The temperature, sugar levels, how the grains were milled, and many more aspects had to be carefully controlled and monitored to ensure the brewing went smoothly. Sarah Bankhead noted, “After spending much time reading historical accounts and methods for brewing, it was very neat to get to see and experience the process come to life.” Nicki Fischer added, “It is one thing to read about the recipe and the methods used to brew the beer, and it’s another to sit first row and lend a helping hand.”As scientists, I think it’s safe to say brewing is not only a craft but an intense scientific procedure as well.

Alan (left) and James (right) pouring water into our first mash.

In the midst of the brewing, our team also promoted our historical beer tasting event by asking bystanders to enter their contact information on a slip (to be notified of the event) for the chance to win tickets to our Elissa shipboard tasting on March 23, 2018. We jokingly called this “heckling,” and dressed up in bacon and egg costumes, our team members took turns as pairs advertising for the event. Our microbiologist, Dr. Elizabeth Latham, a master heckler, taught us how to draw people into  conservation and keep them interested. I can speak for the team in saying that we all got out of our shell during heckling!

Helen (left) and Christian (right) heckling people outside Brigadoon Brewery to sign up for notification of our shipboard beer tasting.

What did the beer taste like? I can’t say as 1) about half of us, including myself, are underage and were given a wristband that indicated we could not try any alcohol, and 2) our beer is not ready yet as it has to go through fermentation for the next 2 weeks. We will be picking the beer up on Thanksgiving weekend!

The trip was a great experience in learning the science of brewing beer and how important it was to 17th-century sailors.  A big thank you to Alan and his team who were extremely helpful with keeping the recipe as historically accurate as possible. We couldn’t have completed the brewing project without the generous help of Brigadoon Brewery & Brew School. 

A little about Brigadoon Brewery & Brew School…


Brigadoon Brewery & Brew School LLC


To educate as many minds and palates as possible about the important role of beer in the development of civilization and the qualities and attributes of craft beer. In short:

“We believe that life is too short to drink bad beer.”

2017 will be our 10th season at the Texas Renaissance Festival


Brigadoon Brewery & Brew School is a unique brewpub and teaching facility located on the grounds of the Texas Renaissance Festival in Todd Mission (Plantersville), Texas. Brigadoon Brewery and Brew School was born from a desire to bring our love of brewing beer and our love of the Texas Renaissance Festival together. We opened in the fall of 2008 as a unique living history demonstration booth brewing with historical equipment and techniques.  In 2011 we expanded production to include a modern stainless system off stage. Both the historical and modern brewed beer are sold back to the public. To our knowledge we are the only renaissance style brewery or brewpub operating on the grounds of a Renaissance Festival using period specific recipes, equipment, and methods as well as modern equipment to brew hand crafted ale and serve it to the public.

What does that actually mean? Well, nine weekends a year (a total of 19 days) we don our garb and brew beer using equipment, ingredients, techniques, and recipes that would have been available during the 1400s through the 1600s. We then give samples of ale away and sell pints to visitors that pass through our booth allowing them the opportunity to taste a piece of living history.

Brigadoon Brewery Currently brews over 12 different beers.  Brigadoon’s Scottish and English Ales are both reverse engineered from tax records to match a period in history (1490-1550) and are brewed on period equipment using period techniques and then sold back to the public making each sip a taste of history.

To learn more visit:

Poster Season Came Early This Year Fri, 27 Oct 2017 14:58:25 +0000 By Melissa Dossett

Our team was super excited to get right back to work on our cod and beef research this year! We met (some for the first time) with bright and shiny faces, ready for anything that might come our way. Including…having two posters ready in under a month! While team members such as myself and a few others were not too worried about this, it was a different story for the rest of the team. Most of them are freshmen or sophomores who have never participated in a formal research conference before, and/or it was their first semester with the team. Thus, a senior team member and I were put in charge of the Cod team, and another experienced member was put in charge of the Beef team. Due to the fast approaching deadline, it felt a little like: “Ok, we need two posters: Cod team, Beef team, GO”. Luckily though, our team has amazing mentors that supported us through this experience. Nonetheless, we were ready and willing to take on the challenge. Our team really rallied and got so much done in so little time. I only participated in my first conference last semester, so I was worried about coordinating a team so soon, but luckily, I had a great team to work with. I also think that by being thrown into this so fast, our team learned how to work well together in a short amount of time.

We ended up getting both posters done in the nick of time, and they were awesome! Then, came my personal favorite part–presenting. I get really excited to share with people things that I have worked hard on and I could tell my team members were excited too. I presented the Cod poster with Daniela Trevino, Emily Bandy, and Somer Smith. This group of girls in particular really complimented each other well, as each knew certain aspects about the research that maybe another wasn’t as clear on. When asked about her first conference experience at A&M, and with the team, Emily said, “I had a great experience presenting our data on salted cod. Seeing the research with everyone’s poster there made me really excited for all the things we can do with our research!” Additionally, Somer stated that, “Having the opportunity to present a research poster with my peers was amazing! I was able to tell others about our project and learn about all of the other projects being conducted at A&M.” Echoing what Somer mentioned about learning about the other projects, this is something I really enjoyed as well! We were placed next to a group who’s poster we were really interested in, and vice versa.

I think experiences like these are what really brings our team together and reminds us why we were passionate about joining the team. It also shows that together, we are able to accomplish tasks that may seem daunting!

Somer Smith (left) and Emily Bandy (right) representing Team Cod!

From Left to Right: Sarah Bankhead, Erika Davila, Emelie Nelson, and John McQuitty in front of their fantastic salted beef poster.

Left to Right: Daniela Trevino, Somer Smith, and Melissa Dossett, in front of their awesome cod poster!

New Undergraduate Members and Summer Progress Update Sun, 17 Sep 2017 23:43:39 +0000 We are incredibly excited to begin a new semester of the Ship Biscuit & Salted Beef Project. If you have not been following us on Facebook, please check our webpage:  to stay up-to-date with our progress. Over the Summer, we have successfully loaded our food items on Elissa and are now analyzing the nutritional and microbial contents of the food items! Further, we are so proud to announce that our team microbiologist, Elizabeth Latham, graduated over the Summer with her PhD in Animal Science!

We have also started a fundraising page as the cost of the media we are growing our microbes on for study has exceeded our initial costs (

Lastly, I would like to announce the new members to our team who we are so glad to have with us!

Johanna Fischer

Degree: Bioenvironmental Science (B.S.) from Texas A&M University, WIP

Myers-Brigg Personality Type: INTJ

Interests: traveling the world, hiking, animals, binging TV shows on Netflix, discovering new bands and music in general, FaceTiming my boyfriend across the world

Favorite bookBlue Covenant by Maude Barlow

One Amazing Thing I’ve Seen or Done: Saw of view of the Rhine River from the Reichenstein Castle in Germany.

I was born in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, to an American mother and a German father. At 5 years old, I moved to the beautiful city of Corpus Christi, Texas, where I called home for most of the year and spent my summers back in Ecuador. In high school, I was very active in any club that seemed interesting and would look good on a college application, especially the clubs with “honor society” in their title. These included the National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, and the National Technical Honor Society. After high school I moved to College Station, Texas to attend Texas A&M University and to pursue a degree in Bioenvironmental Science. I originally had plans to work for the EPA, but seeing as how the government has steered away from an environmental focus, I’m open to wherever my education may be applied. I’m also looking to further my education in Germany. I’m in my last semester of my undergraduate career with high hopes of graduating in December and moving to Sweden shortly following graduation.

Somer Smith

Myers-Brigg Personality Type: ISTJ

Interest: Reading, eating good food, organizing, and watching Netflix.

Favorite Book: Most of the books I read are trilogies or longer and my current favorite is Significance by Shelly Crane.

One Amazing Thing I’ve Seen or Done: Rode a roller coaster (that probably wasn’t safe) through the trees in Jamaica.

Somer Smith is an undergraduate Biology major at Texas A&M University. She is also minoring in Applied Learn-Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, also known as AggieTeach. Before attending Texas A&M, Somer attended a rural high school in Groesbeck, Texas. While there she was very active in extracurricular activities and held many leadership positions. She graduated as Valedictorian of her class and was also able to receive an Associates Degree. Some of her hobbies include: reading, arm knitting, cross-stitch, and spending time with family and friends. Her focus on this project will be primarily based on studying the samples in the lab and doing basic research for the team. She looks forward to all of the experience and knowledge she will gain and contribute.

Helen Chen

Degree: Biomedical Science (Estimated Graduation May 2018)

Myers-Brigg Personality Type: ESTJ

Interests: Kayaking, Hiking, Powerlifting, Game of Thrones, Makeup, and Traveling!

Favorite Book: Ready Player One

One Amazing Thing I’ve Seen or Done:  I climbed the Great Wall of China and it was amazing! The view was stunning and the weather that day perfect.

Helen lived in Phoenix, Arizona for the first 9 years of her life, and then moved to a small town in the southern tip of Texas. She attended a magnet high school focused on the health professions career and started college at Texas A&M University in 2015. Before attending Texas A&M University, she traveled to China to see her relatives and to experience new adventures. In College Station, she’s occupied her time with studying for her degree, volunteering in the local hospital, and being involved with her scholarship organization, Century Scholars. In the Fall of 2016, she started to work as a lab assistant in the Veterinary Pathobiology department focusing on hemoparasites that affect cattle. Outside of the class and lab, she likes to spend time watching movies or cooking different meals and recipes.  If she has a free weekend, she likes to spend it visiting friends in Houston or Austin and food hopping at new restaurants. She likes to start everyday with the mindset of  “better today than yesterday”. Her focus on this project will be on data analysis and laboratory work in salted beef and vitamin D.

Emelie Nelson

Degree(s):Biomedical Sciences (BS) WIP; Certificate of Medical Proficiency in Spanish

Interests: Learning languages, medicine, traveling, painting, and yoga.

Favorite Book: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

One Amazing Thing I’ve Seen or Done:  I started a non-profit organization (Love Our Lungs)  to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis.

Emelie Nelson is an Undergraduate Student at Texas A&M University currently pursuing her degree in Biomedical Sciences. Emelie was born and spent the beginning of her childhood in Galveston, TX. At the age of ten, she and her family relocated to Friendswood, TX where she was heavily involved in cheerleading, science fair, and the debate team. Emelie has spent the past two summers interning at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) and volunteering at Shriners Burn Hospital in Galveston, TX. These experiences have reaffirmed her lifelong dream of becoming a Physician. In college, Emelie has participated in a medical mission trip to Peru, been an active member of MEDLIFE, and volunteered for Meals on Wheels. Emelie is incredibly excited to be a member of this research project! Her focus will be on the analysis of the microbial growth of food samples.

John McQuitty

Degree(s): Biomedical Sciences (BS) and Entomology (BS) from Texas A&M University, WIP

Interests: Scuba Diving, Fishing, Mosquito- Transmitted Diseases, Taekwondo, Pottery Making, and Cooking.

Favorite Book: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

One Amazing Thing I’ve Seen or Done:  I swam with a sea turtle that was bigger than me!

John McQuitty is a Biomedical Sciences and Entomology double major at Texas A&M University. He is originally from Galveston, TX where he spent his youth heavily involved in school, Taekwondo, and art. This past summer, he had the opportunity to work alongside Dr. Tracy Kinsky in a research lab at Shriners Burn Hospital in Galveston, TX. This experience inspired him to pursue an MD/PhD program following the completion of his Undergraduate at Texas A&M. In college, John has been an active member of the fraternity Alpha Tau Omega and a volunteer for Meals on Wheels. John greatly looks forward to participating in this project. His focus will primarily be on the microbial and nutritional analysis of collected food samples.

Daniela Trevino

Degree: Texas A&M University, Biomedical Sciences. Estimated graduation: Spring 2018

Myers-Brigg Personality Type: INFP

Interests: Weight Lifting, Sudoku, Music, and Nutrition

Favorite Book: Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson

One Amazing Thing I’ve Seen or Done: Medical Brigade in Nicaragua

Daniela Trevino is a pre-med undergraduate student at Texas A&M University studying Biomedical Sciences. She was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon and lived there until she was 6 years old. Growing up in Monterrey allowed her to learn both English and Spanish since she attended an English speaking school and spoke Spanish at home with her parents and siblings. Daniela moved to the United States just before starting 1st grade and attended Garza Elementary in McAllen, Texas. She continued her education all throughout high school in the valley, until she graduated and moved to College Station to attend Texas A&M University. She started working at the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in 2016 as a technician in their Drug Laboratory. Daniela plans on attending medical school after taking a gap year to focus on research.

Mariana Trevino

Degree(s): Biomedical Sciences (B.A) from Texas A&M University (estimated graduation date: Fall 2018)

Myers-Brigg Personality Type: ISTJ

Interests: Traveling, Olympic Weightlifting, Nutrition, Reading, Chemistry

Favorite Book: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

One Amazing Thing I’ve Seen or Done: Watched a live craniotomy

Mariana Trevino is an undergraduate Biomedical Sciences major at Texas A&M University. She was raised in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico until she was 5 years old after which her family moved to Mission, Texas. Growing up she enjoyed playing competitive tennis and later found her love for Olympic weightlifting during her senior year of high school. During her first two years of college Mariana became very interested in nutrition and how the foods that we eat affect our body which ultimately led her to discovering a vegan lifestyle which she has been following ever since. This along with working at the Texas A&M Fruit and Vegetable Improvement Center helped fuel her interest in nutrition even further and she hopes to use the knowledge that she has gained throughout her academic career.

Christian Encarnacion

Biomedical Sciences (B.S) from Texas A&M University, Graduating 2019
Myers-Brigg Personality Type: INTJ
Interests: Traveling, hiking, eating lots of good food, video games, TV shows, movies, and running
Favorite BookAnnihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
One Amazing Thing I’ve Seen or Done: Visited Vatican City and saw Pope Francis during a Papal Audience.

Christian was born in Miami, Florida to two Filipino immigrants. He lived there for ten years before moving to McAllen, Texas. He is currently a pre-med junior at Texas A&M University and is majoring in Biomedical Sciences. He is an active member of Minority Association for Pre-Health Students and is currently Vice President Internal for the Philippine Student Association. He previously volunteered in a lab studying the physiological and psychological effects of alcohol. Back home, he regularly shadows doctors and was part of a student observation program with the surgery department at a local hospital. When not cramming and studying into the late hours of the night, Christian likes to spend time binging on his favorite TV shows, catching the latest movie, or eating food with some friends.

Emily Bandy


Nutrition (B.A.) from Texas A&M University, WIP

Myers-Brigg Personality Test: INTJ

Interests: Running, eating (especially froyo), cooking, hiking, camping, skiing, listening to music

Favorite Book: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolken

One Amazing Thing I’ve Seen Or Done: Only person to make a smoothie Speedy Noil liked

Emily Bandy was born and raised in San Antonio, TX. After running three and a half years on the cross country/track team in high school, she joined the A&M XC & Track team her freshman year at Texas A&M. While balancing her athletics, she began to work for the Sports Nutrition department for the A&M football team. She later left the team to pursue a bigger role in sports nutrition, leading to traveling to the bowl game in 2016 and to a national sports nutrition conference in 2017. She now works as a tutor for student-athletes and continues to work for the football team. Her focus in this project is to get hands-on experience and learn the basics of research.


These new members are joined by several of our past undergraduate research scholars including Erika Davila, Rogelio Casas, Sarah Bankhead, Melissa Dossett, Monica Montgomery, Karen Galvan, Michael Pawlus, and Roger Howard!

We are very grape-ful… Sun, 23 Jul 2017 03:46:08 +0000  

By Erika Davila

Last weekend we went on a mission in the name of science– we took on a great opportunity last minute thanks to Dr. Justin Scheiner in Texas A&M’s Department of Horticulture, and found ourselves harvesting grapes at Mound Prairie Vineyard in Snook, Texas! The owner graciously allowed us to take grapes from two rows that were left over after their harvest which he did not need. Conveniently, we were looking to create our own wine for the project, so obviously it was destined for us!

Harvesting grapes. From left to right: Rogelio Casas, Erika Davila, and Sarah Bankhead

We came across a few friendly, and not so friendly, little critters that call this vineyard home. Unfortunately, a hornet stung the fingers of two of our group members, but hopefully the risk was well worth the reward!

Over the course of several hours we collected about 100 pounds of grapes, which equates to a little over 6 gallons of wine! YAY! To make it as similar as possible to 17th-century wine, we used two common methods of preparation. The first 5 gallons were made using a press, which uses a machine to crush the grapes (in our case a modern bladder press from the Horticulture department), and put in a 5-gallon oak barrel. Another gallon of wine was made by stomping on the grapes, which proved to be a fun workout experience! Both of these methods crush the grapes and release the juice that contains the sugars necessary for the microbes on the grapes to begin fermentation. Now we play the waiting game!


From left to right: Sarah Bankhead, Crystal Dozier, Grace Tsai, Erika Davila, and Rogelio Casas

Thanks again to the grape group of people that helped out!

Check out our winemaking process in this fun video below!

Fun fact of the day: The Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis), a common grape pest, can sometimes be crushed with the grapes during the wine-making process, and taint the flavor of the wine due to the alkaloids found in their defensive secretions. Read more about them here:

Exciting Collaborations Fri, 21 Jul 2017 04:14:12 +0000 By Michael Pawlus

In an effort to obtain the best possible outcome for our test brew, the team has begun initial talks with Karbach Brewing Company in Houston.

Karbach Brewing, founded in 2011, has a proven track record of brewing success and will be assisting our efforts by brewing a modern variation of the selected recipe and hosting a fundraiser, featuring the tribute beer, at the recently renovated brewery in Houston.   The knowledge possessed by the staff at Karbach as well as the capacity and willingness to assist with such an interesting project will help spread the outcomes of the project and raise awareness of other projects going on as well. Some of the team made the trip from College Station to meet up with Brand Manager David Graham and Brew Master, Eric Warner to tour the facility and lay out a plan for execution.

Karbach Visit. (L to R: Mike, David, Grace, Christopher, Eric, and Justin)

Meanwhile, we have been in touch with Nathan Barkman, the owner of Rio Brazos Distillery, who has been so kind to donate a few casks for both the project and the two exhibits planned in Houston. Rio Brazos Distillery specializes in using locally sourced grains and simple, small-batch, pot-distillation for making premium whiskeys and bourbon. The SBSB team is also considering making some 17th-century distillates with Mr. Barkman to get our hands dirty and explore how aqua vitae was made in the past.


Last but not least, Karyn and Calvin Medders at Chubby Dog Farm will be helping us prepare the salted beef and salted pork for our project.

Chubby Dog Farm specializes in heritage mangalitsa-red wattle pigs on wooded acres and GMO-free feed and no antibiotics or hormones ever. Take a look at their lovely farm here!

Thanks to all of our wonderful collaborators and sponsors without whom this project would not be possible.

Lab Work and Sampling Precision! Fri, 14 Jul 2017 03:46:18 +0000 By Karen Galvan

We have made small breakthroughs in the lab as well as in solidifying our project procedures.  In the lab, we have finally discovered the possible causes of previous inconclusive results!

We suspect that the gel electrophoresis results were not showing up as expected because the water we used to prepare the samples was exposed to too much human DNAse, so we have changed our DNA extraction method to a simple microwave after confirming its effectiveness, and also adjusted the annealing temperature of the thermocycler for Polymerase Chain Reaction. In short, we are on our way to knowing what mysterious microbe was growing in the salted beef made last Fall.

Of course, none of the lab efforts matter without proper execution of the experiment. The team has been meeting weekly and discussing our ideas for how to retrieve and store the individual food samples in the most controlled fashion to retain as much consistency as possible and reduce contamination of the food remains. We will be preparing salted beef, pork, and cod, oatmeal, peas, ship biscuits, and beer. We plan on collecting 3 samples per food item regularly: 2 that are raw for microbial testing and the other that will be cooked and used for microbial and nutritional testing. For now, we are individually designing specific collection protocols for the each food item, and coming up with a proper way to store all of the samples for the car ride back to College Station, TX given it is approximately a 2 to 3 hour drive back. We are also coming up with important variables to monitor and record. For example, we will be recording the temperature, pH, and volume level of the brine in the barrels, and noting the color of the foods as soon as they come out of the casks.

One of the most crucial aspects to control is retrieving samples without exposing the food to stray microbes. One of the team members, Rogelio Casas, has been designing an integrated sensor pump that will allow us to execute the aforementioned. The lab team members are currently reviewing research on which microbes we expect to find in the salted beef and pork so that we can have an idea of what to expect once the project launches and in which kind of media to grow the bacteria given their unusual environment.

Stay tuned to hear our progress on both our wine-making experiment and environmental sensor in the next few posts!

Laboratory Research Update: What’s that microbe? Fri, 09 Jun 2017 00:42:05 +0000 By Melissa Dossett & Monica Montgomery

Over the past few weeks, we have started working in the lab to go beyond the book-learning aspect of our research and delve further into the hands-on aspect of it. We were unsure about what to expect at first, as the labs we have done up until this point have been with TAs and professors carefully guiding us through the procedures and techniques. With the help of each other, Somer Smith (another undergraduate student), and the guidance of Elizabeth Latham, lab time has become very exciting because we have to think for ourselves and design research experiments.

What’s that growing on the plate? We’ll report as soon as we find out!

To begin our work in the laboratory, we plated different bacterial cultures that were growing on the moldy meat samples we had. It was not too pleasant of a sight, but it was fascinating to see the rapid growths of mold within the container! Next, we worked with a Qiagen DNA extraction kit which consisted of a great deal of centrifuging and pipetting. This step allowed us to isolate bacteria within the collected samples for further purification. PCR (Polymerase Chain reaction) was performed next. This process is used to amplify a small amount of DNA. We later attempted to utilize what we had obtained from the PCR to do a gel electrophoresis. Gel electrophoresis is a method used to separate mixtures of DNA or proteins according to molecular size. The molecules are separated by being pushed by an electrical field through a gel that contains small pores. The results from the gel electrophoresis were unsuccessful and could have been caused by one of three problems: 1) we did not get enough DNA amplification during PCR, 2) there was no DNA to begin with, or 3) there was improper pouring of the TAE buffer causing the ladder to contaminate other wells. Currently, we are still working to correct and troubleshoot problems for the gel electrophoresis.

Before summer break, the last experiment we left off on was using the DNA spectrophotometer to test for DNA purity within our samples. Unfortunately, the spectrophotometer results showed that our samples of DNA were impure. To fix this problem, we are going to fix errors in the plating and DNA extraction methods. There could possibly be cross contamination and incorrect handling of substances that we’ll get to the root in the next few days.

For the future, we are planning to perform tests on retrieved food samples from Elissa. Soon we will be designing experimental procedures for food collection and testing. We will further identify microbes, toxins, and their respective amounts in the lab and carry out a chemical analysis of suspected factors that may possibly be affecting the food. We will compile this data with our nutritional research to fully understand the nutrition and microbial intake of the average sailor from the beginning to end of a 3-month voyage. In addition, we will test promising microbes for medical and other beneficial uses. Given the unique preparation and storage of the food, we hope to discover probiotics that can improve people’s health today.

After troubleshooting errors within our previous experiments, we are looking forward to this next phase of research, as we are about to dive into our new laboratory objectives and hopefully discover the unknown!

New Summer Aggie Research Scholars! Tue, 06 Jun 2017 05:34:21 +0000 As many of our followers have perhaps noticed, the Ship Biscuit & Salted Beef Research Project is part of the Aggie Research Scholars Program (ARS), Texas A&M University’s largest research program. The ARS program follows the Research-Intensive Community model developed at Texas A&M University that brings together graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, who serve as team leaders to cultivate research and education for undergraduates seeking research opportunities. Last semester, we had 6 students in our ARS team, many who have now successfully graduated and moved on to pursue further education. This Summer we have several new members who are excited to learn how to conduct research and contribute their knowledge to the project.


Electronic Systems Engineering Technology (B.S.) from Texas A&M University, WIP
Myers-Brigg Personality Type: ISFP
Interests: Video Games, sleeping, computers
Favorite Book: Runner by Carl Deuker
One Amazing Thing I’ve Seen or Done: Went camping at Cleburne, Texas

Rogelio Casas was born in Rio Grande City, Texas and moved to Laredo, Texas for most his life. In high school, Rogelio (or Roger as most people call him) joined the ULTIMATE Robotics team and ended up leading the team in his junior and senior year. With that experience in high school, he knew he wanted to be involved in electronics and wanted to have a more hands-on experience in college and he would be the first family member to go to college. After being accepted to the engineering department at Texas A&M University, he found out about Electronic Systems Engineering Technology (ESET for short) and after taking a semester of their classes, he knew this was the major he wanted back in high school.


Entomology (B.S.) from Texas A&M University
Myers-Brigg Personality Type: INFJ
Interests: Molecular Biology, Genetics, Food, Animals, Sleeping, Video Games, Insects, Make-up, Fashion
Favorite Book: Lost At Sea by Bryan Lee O’Malley
One Amazing Thing I’ve Seen or Done: Went to Disneyland (FOR FREE!!)

Erika Davila was born in Laredo, Texas where she spent most of her early life. She often spent her summers in Chicago, Illinois or Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico to spend time with her family. As a first-generation college student, navigating through college was difficult and finding the perfect major was hard. She knew she enjoyed molecular biology and genetics, but wanted to study somewhere it could be applied to. She found entomology, where she can apply her passions into the study of insects. Since insects have a significant impact on agriculture, various research is done to reduce pests and study the resistances in their genetic make-up. Erika has participated in various research experiments such as working with the fire ant brain transcriptome, the fire ant response to Juvenile Hormone, and the effects of electron beam irradiation on psyllids and Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum. Recently graduated, Erika works as an Integrated Pest Management Technician under Texas Agrilife Extension, hoping to gain more experience before making the next step to graduate school.


Degree: (Current) Nutritional Sciences (B.A) from Texas A&M University

Interests: Listening to indie bands, hiking, going to coffee shops, watching movies, and binging on TV shows.  Anything giraffes and always admiring any and every song made by Coldplay

Favorite Book: The Interpretation of Dreams, by Sigmund Freud & poetry books by Lang Leav

One Amazing Thing I’ve Seen or Done: I went on a sand dune buggy tour and sand dune surfed in Huacachina, Peru. They view was breathtaking and made you feel as small as the grains beneath your feet. One other thing I have done that amazes me, and can still not believe, is teach my un-teachable and overly energetic dog, Panchito, how to play fetch. I’d like to believe he’s an angsty teenager in doggy world and refuses to abide by standards.

Karen Galvan was born in a border town- Laredo, Texas. She is majoring in Nutritional Sciences and is hoping to pursue Physician Assistant School upon graduation. She dreams of dedicating years thereafter to working for nonprofit humanitarian aid organizations. Since before beginning her undergraduate years she has had a great passion and admiration for humanitarian work and was granted the privilege to live out that passion a year ago. She traveled to Lima, Peru with MedLife to help out in mobile medical clinics in 3 different communities and help finish a large development project for a community up in the hills in need of a staircase. From time to time, she also enjoys writing creative stories and has had a paper published in the Texas A&M Undergraduate Explorations Journal that was based on a real event that profoundly impacted her life.


Degree(s): A.A. History

B.A. History with a minor in Museum Studies (WIP)

Myers-Brigg Personality Type: ISTJ

NSLS DISC Personality Type: S/C

Favorite Book: Not so much a book but authors, Steve Berry, Dan Brown, James Becker, and Stephen Frey

One Amazing Thing I’ve Seen or Done: Watching my three beautiful daughters turn into intelligent successful young women

In general my life is boring. I focus mainly on church, family, education, and work. My educational path has taken many detours just for me to arrive at this point in my life. This is why education is important to me and as a father to three daughters, I hope that I am a role model that they look toward for inspiration. By working one can achieve one’s goals that are never too far away, and it is important to never give up on those dreams no matter the hurdle. My wife and I enjoy the adventures of traveling, and getting to see new and wonderful places when we can afford it. If it supplies an educational experience, then that is just the topping, especially if there is a history aspect included with the adventure. I am a collector of souvenir shot glasses, it allows me to share our travel adventures with friends and guests that visit our home.


+/- 98.6F
Myers-Brigg Personality Type: ENTP
Interests: overlanding, fishing, rugby,  cycling, archery, live music, craft beer, good whiskey

Favorite Book: The Heart and The Fist, Eric Greitens; The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell
One Amazing Thing I’ve Seen or Done:

-My team led the assault to apprehend one of the most wanted terrorists in Al Anbar Provence, Iraq.

-I have won numerous dance competitions, but not for the style you would think or expect.

-I once drove from Galveston, TX to Prudhoe Bay, AK (furthest you can drive a personal vehicle in North America) on a whim.

-I am, technically, the undefeated village arm wrestling champion in South Milford, Leeds, UK.

Mike was born to a wayward Vietnam War vet and an empathetic medical insurance claims adjuster in Galveston, Texas is what was considered a winter hurricane of patriotism, classic rock, and cheap whiskey. Growing up as a shy, nerdy child with N’SYNC-inspired frosted tips and off-brand JNCO jeans, he read voraciously and became infatuated with, baseball, raising cattle, tales of pirates and the story of the Titanic, based solely on Kate Winslet’s performance in a movie based loosely on the historical tale.  In 2001, in the midst of having hammers thrown at him in welding class, Mike learned about the terrorist attacks and decided to enlist in the United States Marine Corps (best uniforms) as soon as he could convince his mother to sign the paperwork.  After nearly a decade of service throughout numerous continents and successful combat missions, Mike separated from the USMC to pursue … something…  He was a defense contractor in Afghanistan with Special Forces, a commercial salmon fisherman in Kodiak, Alaska, and a beast of burden at Karbach Brewing in Houston, Texas.  A snarky conversation about being a mermaid with an veteran’s support resources counselor at Texas A&M University led Mike to once again uproot his life and chase down the newest challenge – being a 30-something college freshman curmudgeon in pursuit of an eventual Master’s Degree in Nautical Archaeology.


Interests: Dogs, riding horses, music, sleeping, and being outside

Favorite Book: Looking for Alaska by John Green

One Amazing Thing I’ve Done or Seen: I have seen my dog dive to the bottom of a 10-foot-deep pool for a ball

Although from Dallas, TX, Emily spent many weekends in College Station at Aggie football games. Both of her parents went to Texas A&M and graduated from veterinary school here. She plans to attend vet school at Texas A&M also, after finishing her undergraduate degree in food science. Emily has spent a week every summer for the past ten years on the Navajo Reservation with Christian Veterinary Missions helping with vaccinations and small surgeries for cats, dogs, horses, and sheep. She has a black lab named Dale who will retrieve any object that is thrown for him, and a horse named Fred. Her hobbies are riding horses, playing polo, listening to old country music, and running. While helping with this project, she hopes to learn more about the type of food brought onto 17th century ships, how these were preserved and how the environment affected the nutritional value of these foods.