MBL


Joe DeGiorgis, assistant professor of biology at Providence College, brought four undergraduates to the MBL last summer to conduct research on the squid–a star model system of neurobiology. The experience was “incredibly enriching,” said one undergraduate. “You can’t do any better than this.” DeGiorgis is also adjunct faculty in the MBL’s Cellular Dynamics Program. Read more here.

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Eye of the North Atlantic long-finned squid (Doryteuthis pealei). Credit: Joseph DeGiorgis

The MBL Activities Committee and Sodexo hosted a lively and tasty “Pulled Pork BBQ” this week in the MBL Quadrangle. The main event was a pie-making contest, which also provided the fast-disappearing desserts. Congratulations to the winning bakers (pictured in the last photo in the slideshow): Diane Cook, Suzanne Thomas, and Lisa Hunt. And thanks to all who baked, judged, served, helped out, and ate!

 

The MBL’s Anne Giblin and colleagues are watching how the salt marshes in the Plum Island Estuary in northern Massachusetts are bearing up as the climate warms, sea level rises, and coastal development stresses their ecological integrity. A senior scientist in the MBL Ecosystems Center, Giblin directs the multi-institutional Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) project at Plum Island, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

This video was produced at the NSF as part of the “Science Nation” video series, which is distributed to media outlets and K-12 content distributors throughout the world. For more information on “Science Nation,” please contact Laurie Modena Howell: lhowell@associates.nsf.gov.

 

Anne Glblin (center) at Plum Island Estuary with former MBL Semester in Environmental Science students Austin Ritter (L) and David Dodge.

Anne Glblin (center) at Plum Island Estuary with former MBL Semester in Environmental Science students Austin Ritter (L) and David Dodge.

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Contact:
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, cdybas@nsf.gov

WOODS HOLE, Mass.–For decades, doctors have developed methods to diagnose how different types of cells and systems in the body are functioning. Now a team of scientists has adapted an emerging biomedical technique to study the vast body of the ocean.

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By Laurel Hamers

The evolutionary path from single-celled organisms to complex species with higher-order thought processes has been mapped out with some degree of certainty, but how the earliest life forms appeared has proven a more difficult question. What conditions prompted organic molecules to assemble into the building blocks of life?

At the recent Origin of Life Symposium in Lille Auditorium, hosted by the MBL Physiology course, a panel of four distinguished scientists shared their research and opinions on this complex topic.

“What makes this a really important question is not only that it’s fundamental to how we understand biology as a process of living systems, but it’s also really important to how we think about the fate of this planet,” said Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, Physiology course co-director and a principal investigator at the Eunice K. Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy IV – Composite. Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/CXC/STScI - NASA JPL Photojournal: PIA12348.

Center of the Milky Way Galaxy IV – Composite. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/CXC/STScI – NASA JPL Photojournal: PIA12348.

The first speaker, MBL Distinguished Scientist Mitchell Sogin, gave a broad overview of historical and current theories on the origin of life, with an emphasis on the role of geological diversity. Different geological microenvironments could have generated the building blocks that eventually combined to create habitable environments, he said.

Jack Szostak, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and 2009 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, took the stage next. He described the problem as a step-by-step process.

“We’re not worried so much about defining exactly where life began,” he said. “I think what’s important is to understand the pathway. There’s a whole series of processes from simple chemistry to more complicated chemistry, building up the building blocks of biology,” Szostak said. “The goal for the field for the moment is to understand one continuous pathway from chemistry to biology.”

Nilesh Vaidya, a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University, discussed research on spontaneous RNA assembly that he had carried out as a graduate student at Portland State University. By demonstrating that small RNA fragments can form cooperative networks that evolve toward greater complexity, he argued that early RNA-like molecules might have used a similar tactic to support the emergence of early life.

Tony Hyman, managing director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, offered a different perspective, focusing on how cytoplasmic organization may have fostered an environment conducive to the formation of early life. He argued that phase separation of organic molecules due to cytoplasmic organization would concentrate these molecules in certain spaces and facilitate reactions that might not occur at lower concentrations.

A group discussion at the end helped symposium attendees to integrate the topics that the four researchers had presented.

The purpose of the symposium was not to reach a conclusion about the origins of life—the speakers all admitted that this was a daunting, and likely impossible, task. Rather, by bringing together eminent researchers in the field, the symposium organizers hoped to foster discussion between scientists addressing the same question from different angles.

 

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