Archive for July, 2009

The Neurobiology course took its annual boat trip to Devil’s Foot Island on July 8, with “Captain” Joe DiGiorgis of Providence College and “First Mate” Tom Reese of the National Institutes of Health charting the course. This day of relaxation, swimming, music-making, barbeque and games has become a much-appreciated course tradition. Two years ago, before returning to the MBL, the course left its mark on the island: a lovely squid in the sand. Thanks to Neurobiology faculty member JoAnn Buchanan of Stanford University School of Medicine, who took the photos!

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By David Gallagher

A day in the life of the Physiology course at the MBL. A great video by course director Dyche Mullins.

by Lauren Fackler

David Pogue, the personal technology columnist for the New York Times, brought “Dave’s Mobile Show and Tell” – part lecture, part comedy routine – to Lillie Auditorium on Wednesday. The event, sponsored by the MBL Associates, was a benefit for the Falmouth Forum Endowment.

The audience was well entertained by Pogue’s brand of humor, as well as by his slides, videos, and live demonstrations of his favorite tech gadgets and developments.

Some of the most interesting services and products Pogue described were:

Skype – This free software application allows free instant messaging, voice calls, and video conferencing through the Internet to other users of Skype. (A fee is charged for calls made to landlines).

Google Voice Local Search – A free business search telephone service from Google. Call 1-800-GOOG-411. After telling them what business you are looking for, it will connect your call, send you a text message, or speak the business address and phone number to you.

ChaCha Mobile Search – A free mobile search service. Text any question to ChaCha (242 242) and a person will reply with an answer in about one minute. You can also call 1-800-2ChaCha with questions.

MiFi – A personal WiFi hotspot small enough to fit in your pocket. It requires a cellular network since it works by converting 3G radio waves to WiFi 802.11b/g for LAN connectivity. A great way to get wireless wherever you go!

Twitter – A free social networking site where users can post messages (up to 140 characters each) on their personal pages or other pages. On his own Twitter page, Pogue posted one random question every night for a couple of months. He received thousands of responses and a book containing the questions and best (and probably funniest) answers is due to be published next month!

One cool new product not discussed by Pogue is the CellScope – a clinical microscope that attaches to your cellphone. Although not available for sale yet, it is already receiving rave reviews. Using the cell phone’s battery and camera, it offers resolution of just over a millionth of a meter!

The Cellscope prototype configured for fluorescence microscopy. Developed by UC Berkeley researchers, it is described in the July 22 issue of PLOS ONE.

The CellScope prototype configured for fluorescence microscopy. Developed by UC Berkeley researchers, it is described in the July 22 issue of PLOS ONE. Photo by David Breslauer

Eel Pond, Woods Hole. Photo by Matt Person

Eel Pond, Woods Hole. Photo by Matt Person

Matt Person, technical services coordinator in the MBLWHOI Library, walked out of a movie in Redfield Auditorium one June evening and into this serene scene. “It wasn’t difficult to capture,” he says. “It was one of those moments when you know you are looking at something beautiful, and all you need is a camera.”

As far as scary-looking fish go, the adult sea lamprey is right up there with the sharks. It’s about 3 feet long, with concentric rings of teeth inside a jawless, suction-cup mouth. After trapping its prey by sucking, the lamprey scrapes off the skin using a tooth at the end of its tongue, and then sucks out the blood. Since the lamprey has good taste in fish – preferring trout, salmon, bass –it’s the target of a federal lampricide program in the Great Lakes region, where it has nearly devoured some of these stocks.

The toothy mouth of the sea lamprey. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The toothy mouth of the sea lamprey. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

But no creature is all bad. “The lamprey has a really beautiful spinal cord,” says Ona Bloom, an MBL Research Fellow from The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. Together with Jennifer Morgan (Univ. of Texas at Austin) and David Parker (Univ. of Cambridge), who are recipients of an MBL sponsored Albert and Ellen Grass Faculty Research Grant, Bloom and her colleagues are studying the lamprey’s remarkable ability to recover from severe spinal cord injury. “We have been talking for years about collaborating on these studies,” says Bloom. “ The MBL gives us a wonderful opportunity to do that.”

One of the most primitive of living vertebrates, the sea lamprey is a good animal in which to analyze the acute response to spinal cord injury, which is Bloom’s focus, and how the nervous system functions are restored, which interests Morgan and Parker. “We want to understand the differences between the robust recovery in lampreys and how that contrasts with what happens in humans with spinal cord injury,” says Morgan. “If we can understand processes in the lamprey that contribute to recovery, then we can see if those processes can promote better recovery in higher vertebrates.”

T-shirts decorated with cartoon fish are a dime a dozen on Cape Cod.  But the kids and parents who attended the MBL Club’s “Fish Stories and T-shirt Printing” last week took home a much better souvenir of the ocean — T-shirts that they printed with real fish.  You may not think fashion when you think fish, but these beautiful shirts may change your mind.

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Five finished fish shirts. Photo by Lauren Fackler/MBL

To make the prints, the kids and parents painted freshly caught fish and then pressed them right onto the shirts.  MBL Club volunteer Alan Steinbach told stories and scientific yarns about each fish before helping the group make the prints. Steinbach even provided the fish, which he caught himself.

The MBL Club hosts weekly activities all summer long, as well as special events every Wednesday night for kids and adults.  Tonight’s event continues the scaly creature theme with a “Rainforest Reptile Show”!

What’s an arctic researcher to do with all those extra hours of summer daylight? Pay homage to the late King of Pop, of course. Last week, MBL Logan Science Journalism Fellows, scientists, research assistants and other backup dancers from the Toolik Field Station in Alaska braved the mosquitos for an arctic tribute to Michael Jackson. Watch them do the zombie walk in what may be the northernmost performance of Thriller ever. Can you spot Ecosystems Center scientists Chris Neill and Linda Deegan and MBL webmaster David Gallagher in the back row?

Here are a few pictures from the always-unique July 4th parade in Woods Hole:

MBL Director and CEO Gary Borisy (with flag) leads a happy jumble of sun-drenched paraders in Woods Hole. Photo by Beth Liles

MBL Director and CEO Gary Borisy (with flag) leads a happy jumble of paraders in Woods Hole. Photo by Beth Liles

The banner held by Embryology course TA Elke Ober and a young assistant gives a clue what the students are doing: the “chaotic cleavage dance”! The blue T-shirts are the egg's ectoderm, red are the mesoderm, and yellow are the endoderm. Photo by Beth Liles

The banner held by Embryology course TA Elke Ober and a young assistant gives a clue what the students behind them are doing: the “chaotic cleavage dance”! The blue T-shirts are the embryo's ectoderm, red are the mesoderm, and yellow are the endoderm. Photo by Beth Liles

And representing Microbial Diversity are (carrying banner) Alexa Price-Whelan, dressed as a redox tower, and Monisha Brown, dressed as carotenoids. That purple squid to the right is course co-director Steve Zinder, and behind them are young bacteriophages. Photo by Beth Liles

And representing Microbial Diversity are (carrying banner) Alexa Price-Whelan, dressed as a redox tower, and Monisha Brown, dressed as carotenoids. That purple squid to the right is course co-director Steve Zinder, and behind them are young bacteriophages. Photo by Beth Liles

That would be the (blue)Grass Lab! Photo by Beth Liles

That would be the (blue) Grass Lab! Photo by Beth Liles

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Something remarkable happened this weekend. It was not that the rain finally stopped. It was not that the street-gastrulating, red-blood-cell-lysing, tadpole-mutating, infectious-disease-emerging July 4th parade in Woods Hole once again enthralled and puzzled throngs of happy patriots and onlookers (photos to come).

It was the message that you, the Woods Hole community, sent to the leaders of the Woods Hole research institutions during my introduction of Susan Avery, President and Director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) at her July 3 Friday Evening Lecture, “Coastal Cities, Coastal Impacts: The Tides, They Are A-Changin’.” In the course of my introduction, I mentioned that the heads of the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, WHOI, and the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) came together this spring and signed a Memorandum of Agreement at the Captain Kidd to create the Woods Hole Consortium, an alliance that will bring our combined scientific power to bear on some of the major issues facing society today.

You, the full-house audience attending the lecture, burst into spontaneous applause. I was stunned. I shot Susan a look and she, too, was astonished. The discussion to form the consortium began with WHRC Director John Holdren, WHOI Director Susan Avery and myself, and continued with WHRC Acting Director Richard Houghton after John Holdren became Scientific Advisor to President Obama. We proceeded cautiously, fully involving our respective scientific leadership and boards of trustees. If we had any doubt about the wisdom of establishing the Consortium and working together, your affirmation by applause totally dispelled it. Thank you, Woods Hole!

MBL Director Gary Borisy, WHOI Director Susan Avery, and WHRC Acting Director Richard Houghton shake hands after signing the Memorandum of Agreement creating the Woods Hole Consortium. Photo by Tom Kleindinst/WHOI

MBL Director Gary Borisy, WHOI Director Susan Avery, and WHRC Acting Director Richard Houghton shake hands after signing the Memorandum of Agreement creating the Woods Hole Consortium. Photo by Tom Kleindinst/WHOI

Sue Barry didn’t realize she lacked 3-D vision until her early 20s, when she heard about studies of kittens with misaligned eyes in a college class. Barry had been cross-eyed in childhood, and had undergone three surgical attempts to align her eyes in their sockets. Although there had been signs that something was amiss — Barry had difficulty learning to read, for example, which caused a great deal of suffering in grade school — she was still floored to realize that she, like the kittens, could not see stereosocopically (in 3D). Worse, as her professor explained, no amount of surgery could give her this perception of visual depth and dimension, as it was thought to develop only at a “critical period” in early life.

Yet, at age 48, with the help of a developmental optometrist, Barry painstakingly re-trained her eyes to accurately align and send consistent visual information to her brain. And one day — it was no less than an epiphany — her world blossomed gorgeously into three dimensions. Barry, former director of the MBL Grass Fellows program and professor of neurobiology at Mt. Holyoke College, recently published a book about her experience, Fixing My Gaze, which has already sold out its first print run. Presently on a book tour, Barry stopped into the MBLWHOI Library’s Summer Salon Series last week to tell her story. It is both an inspiring personal odyssey and a moving testimony to the amazing plasticity of the human brain.

Sue Barry, author of Fixing My Gaze, leads her audience at the MBLWHOI Library Summer Salon in a simple demonstration of how the brain attempts to fuse inconsistent visual input from the two eyes into one image. Photo by Diana Kenney

Sue Barry, author of Fixing My Gaze, leads her audience at the MBLWHOI Library Summer Salon in a simple demonstration of how the brain attempts to fuse inconsistent visual input from the two eyes into one image. Photo by Diana Kenney