Course


Duncan Mitchison-Field by Susana Montenegro Gouveia

Susana Montenegro Gouveia, a student in the Physiology course, is the winner of @MBL’s “Photo of the Week” contest. Susana won a free ticket to the MBL Gala concert, featuring the Tokyo String Quartet, this Sunday at 8 PM in Lillie Auditorium. Congratulations, Susana!

Gouveia’s photo shows Duncan Mitchison-Field, son of MBL visiting investigators Tim Mitchison and Christine Field of Harvard Medical School, engrossed in his own intellectual pursuits while his parents help guide Physiology students through their lab work.

“Sometimes (Chris Field) brings the kids with her to the lab,” says Gouveia. “They adapt so nicely to the lab environment, as though they were at home. Duncan was just seated in a corner of the lab, very focused on reading his own book. He was there for hours, so concentrated that he didn’t notice me taking his picture…It really seems that love for reading and acquiring new knowledge is part of his family. Duncan is very young but already shows lots of curiosity, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he were a great scientist in the future.”

@MBL welcomes submissions of photos to be considered for posting as “Photo of the Week.” Please send your photo, along with a caption that identifies any people in the photo (names correctly spelled) to: mblnews@mbl.edu.

Betzig2Friday was the last day MBL Physiology and Neurobiology students had Eric Betzig’s latest invention to explore. Two weeks ago, Betzig (left) brought his new contribution to high-resolution microscopy to the MBL from his lab at HHMI’s Janelia Farm campus and installed it in the central microscopy facility on the ground floor of Loeb.

“It’s really at the very bleeding edge,” Betzig says of his microscope, “but it’s a really good time to bring it (to the MBL), where all sorts of world-class cell biologists throw everything they can think of at it. We can learn through trial by fire what works and what doesn’t.”

The microscope combines two concepts—plane illumination microscopy and Bessel beams—to allow for high-resolution imaging within live cells. Cell components are labeled with fluorescent markers, and excitation of these markers by specific wavelengths of light allows them to be visualized by the microscope. (See video below to hear Betzig explain how his Bessel beam plane illumination microscope works).

The microscope is the just latest invention that Betzig has test-run at the MBL. In 2007, Betzig loaded his cutting-edge PALM (photoactivated localization microscopy) equipment into the back of an SUV and drove it up to the Physiology course, upon the invitation of Physiology faculty member and NIH senior investigator Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz. PALM allows scientists to discriminate molecules only two to 25 nanometers apart, a vast improvement on the previous 200-nanometer limitation. At the MBL, Betzig, Lippincott-Schwartz, Jim and Cathy Galbraith of the NIH, Hari Shroff, a former Physiology student, and students then in the course worked feverishly around the clock with PALM. “By the end of two weeks, we had gotten PALM to work with live cells for the first time!” says Lippincott-Swartz. Not only that, but they got PALM to work with two colors of fluorescent probes rather than one, and demonstrated that it could be used to track single molecules in live cells. “It was a spectacular session, and it led to several publications,” Lippincott-Swartz says.

What’s next for Betzig? “I don’t know how many times we’ll invent a new microscope,” Betzig says, “but when we do, the MBL is a good place to be for that kind of intense trial to try to find out what works.”

Janelia Farms/HHMI scientists Thomas Planchon, Research Specialist; Eric Betzig, Group Leader; and Liang Gao, Postdoctoral Scientist, have been testing a new microscope with the help of MBL students and faculty.

Janelia Farm/HHMI scientists Thomas Planchon, Research Specialist; Eric Betzig, Group Leader; and Liang Gao, Postdoctoral Scientist, have been testing a new microscope with the help of MBL students and faculty.

Eric Betzig works on the new microscope.

Eric Betzig works on the new microscope.

Betzig discusses the new Bessel beam plane illumination microscope:

In this clip, Betzel’s microscope allows for visualization of histones – proteins associated with DNA – inside a pig kidney cell:

Here, the microscope reveals a network of mitochondria – cellular components that synthesize ATP, the “fuel” of the cell – inside a human cancer cell:

schistosomasmallOne morning this month, students in the MBL’s Biology of Parasitism (BoP) course learned all about the parasitic worm Schistosoma mansoni (left, courtesy of eol.org) and its effects on the body. Lecturer Andrew S. MacDonald of University of Edinburgh led the class through a detailed overview of the freshwater-borne worm, which can directly enter the skin upon contact. Over 200 million people worldwide are currently infected with Schistosoma, making it an important focus of research.

While the invading strategies of parasites understandably attract a lot of attention, the BoP course is also focusing heavily on interactions between parasites and the immune system. “Without looking at the immune system, you’re only looking at half the story of the parasite,” MacDonald emphasized during his talk. Indeed, according to course faculty member Yasmine Belkaid of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one major theme of this year’s BoP course is how microbes naturally found in the intestines affect the body’s immune response to intruders.

Later that day, BoP students explored this theme in their lab work, looking at the immune responses of mice exposed to Schistosoma. By the end of their seven weeks here, students will have drawn on several areas of biology to explore a variety of topics in parasitism, including details of malaria infection and drug design for patients infected with parasites.

“I love parasitology because it’s not an isolated field,” Belkaid says. “There are lots of fields to touch on: immunology, molecular biology, evolution, and ecology, for example.”

This summer marks the 30th anniversary of the BoP course.

BoP students Anna Protasio and Sumaira Hasnain prepare cells for sorting by a method known as fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS). The cells are from mice infected with the parasitic worm Schistosoma mansoni, and will be sorted based on the immune molecules they have produced in response to the infection.

BoP students Anna Protasio and Sumaira Hasnain prepare cells for sorting by a method known as fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS). The cells are from mice infected with the parasitic worm Schistosoma mansoni, and will be sorted based on the immune molecules they have produced in response to the infection.

It was 10 PM on a Friday, and students in the MBL’s Neural Systems and Behavior Course (NS&B) were hard at work in their Loeb lab. Some hovered over contraptions used for monitoring fly flight behavior. Some peered through a microscope at a portion of the crab nervous system. Michael Dickinson of CalTech, a former co-director of NS&B, took a break from teaching as he strolled between lab machinery while strumming “The Girl from Ipanema” on a ukulele.

When cautioned not to stay up too late (they had a 9 AM lecture to attend the next day), course assistant Gaby Maimon replied, “Oh, we’re just getting started!”

NS&B students are in for eight weeks of rigorous labs and lectures, learning about the neural basis of behavior. According to course director Paul Katz of Georgia State University, whose research involves the strange movements of the colorful Spanish shawl sea slug, the students were using Friday night to finish up the second of four course cycles. In this cycle, students learned about fly flight behavior, the sensory systems of electric fish, and the stomatogastric nervous system of crabs, which controls movement of the crustacean’s stomach.

Friday morning, NS&B students had been treated to the second of two lectures by Dickinson, who has contributed greatly to the study of animal physiology and behavior. His fascinating talk covered several aspects of fly flight aerodynamics and behavior, including how fly flight might have evolved. Dickinson used high-speed photography and videos to illuminate the details of fly flight, and discussed recent advances in the study of animal behavior.

This week, NS&B students start cycle three of their course, studying the behaviors of the nematode worm C. elegans, the mouse, and the zebrafish.

Michael Dickinson explains the proper way to prepare and use tools for attaching electrodes to fly neurons.

Michael Dickinson explains the proper way to prepare and use tools for attaching electrodes to fly neurons. Photo by Sarah Stanley.

Gaby Maimon and student Margarita Agrochao attach an electrode to a fly neuron. The monitor on the left allows them to visualize the neuron and the electrode, while the right monitor displays the whole fly.

Course assistant Gaby Maimon and student Margarita Agrochao attach an electrode to a fly neuron. The monitor on the left allows them to visualize the neuron and the electrode, while the right monitor displays the whole fly. Photo by Sarah Stanley.

“I’m just telling you that we know nothing.” That’s how Rolf Thauer jokingly summed up the lecture he gave Wednesday morning to students in the MBL’s Microbial Diversity course. Thauer, however, knows a lot about microbes. A renowned scientist visiting from the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Germany, he is the author of a 1977 paper on energy conservation in bacterial growth that has been cited more than 1,600 times.

Thauer outlined the different strategies used by different species of microbes to break down nutrients into waste products. Microbes get the energy they need to live from a series of steps involved in nutrient breakdown. Scientists can theorize what those steps are for a given species, based on the known inputs (nutrients) and outputs (waste products). However, some strategies that are theoretically impossible may actually be used by certain species to obtain energy from nutrients. Thauer cautioned that theoretical nutrient breakdown strategies, while useful to explore, can be based on inaccurate assumptions and tell us “nothing” until they can be verified through experimentation.

Microbial Diversity is a six-and-a-half week course for graduate and post-doctoral students who wish to expand their repertoire of techniques for working with a broad range of microbial communities.

After Rolf Thauer’s lecture, Microbial Diversity students Harris Wang, Ali Ling, David Williams, and Esther Singer discuss their first step in an afternoon lab exploring the use of fluorescence microscopy in identifying different species of microbes.

After Rolf Thauer’s lecture, Microbial Diversity students Harris Wang, Ali Ling, David Williams, and Esther Singer discuss their first step in an afternoon lab exploring the use of fluorescence microscopy in identifying different species of microbes.

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