By Jane MacNeil

MBL Distinguished Scientist Shinya Inoué has been designated as the second Honorary Scholar within the Edward Sylvester Morse Institute at the University of Washington.

This designation honors Inoué’s interactions with the university’s Friday Harbor Laboratories (FHL) during the 1950s and beyond, and recognizes his considerable scholarly, research, and educational contributions to the imaging and understanding of cell development in marine organisms.

Friday Harbor Laboratories, the University of Washington’s marine station on San Juan Island. Photo courtesy University of Washington.

Friday Harbor Laboratories, the University of Washington’s marine station on San Juan Island. Photo courtesy University of Washington.

The award was bestowed on Inoué by M. Patricia (Trish) Morse, one of the co-founders of the E.S. Morse Institute’s scholarly exchange program between Japanese marine laboratories and the Friday Harbor Laboratories. Trish Morse is a distant relative of Morse’s and the first native of Woods Hole to receive a PhD in marine zoology.

Inoué’s connection to FHL began when, after graduating from Princeton with a Ph.D. in Biology in 1951, he took his first professional appointment as an Instructor in the Department of Anatomy at the University of Washington. During spring break of 1952, he drove two hours north and took the Puget Sound ferry to Friday Harbor for the first time where, to his delight, he was able to collect more than four species of jellyfish right off the dock in front of the lab. Furthermore, Inoué recalls, the lab had running seawater piped through Pyrex glass tubing that was so pure and free from excess heavy metal ions that not only sea urchins, but 100 percent of the jellyfish eggs, could be fertilized.

While at Princeton, Inoué had improved upon his hand-built polarized light microscope and in 1951 he used it to prove the universal existence of the spindle fibers, the dynamic protein filaments that move chromosomes in the dividing cells. This was his first major accomplishment in a career devoted to delving into the mysteries of living cells.

“In an attempt to better understand how cells divide, Dr. Inoué made a series of epochal innovations in the development of light microscopy,” said Emperor Akihito of Japan, in 2003, on the occasion of Inoué’s receipt of the International Prize for Biology. “These advances rendered it possible to directly observe dynamic changes in the supramolecular structure of living cells during cell division. This contributed immensely to advancing research in such fields of cell division, cytoskeleton, and cell motility,” the Emperor said. ”The products of Dr. Inoué’s research are widely utilized by researchers around the world and contribute immensely to the advancement of biological sciences.”

MBL Distinguished Scientist Shinya Inoué (front center) and some of the MBL-affiliated cell biologists and biophysicists whom he has influenced (l-r, by row): Ted Salmon and Kip Sluder; James LaFountain, Ron Vale, Gary Borisy, and Michael Shribak; Jason Swedlow, Conly Reider, Rudolf Oldenbourg, Tim Mitchison, and Gaudenz Danuser. Credit: Tom Kleindinst

MBL Distinguished Scientist Shinya Inoué (front center) and some of the MBL-affiliated cell biologists and biophysicists whom he has influenced (l-r, by row): Ted Salmon and Kip Sluder; James LaFountain, Ron Vale, Gary Borisy, and Michael Shribak; Jason Swedlow, Conly Reider, Rudolf Oldenbourg, Tim Mitchison, and Gaudenz Danuser. Credit: Tom Kleindinst

Inoué began coming to the MBL as a visiting investigator in the early 1950s, and became a year-round principal investigator in 1977. He was named MBL Distinguished Scientist in 1986.

The first recipient of the Edward Sylvester Morse Honorary Scholar award was Arthur H. Whiteley, a sea urchin developmental and cell biologist at the Friday Harbor Laboratories for more than 60 years. Previously, Whiteley had been a student of E. Newton Harvey’s at Princeton University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1945 and worked with Inoué’s mentor, Kenneth Cooper. While not classmates, Whiteley and Inoué did become friends while Inoué served as an Instructor at the University of Washington from 1951-1953. Whiteley and his wife, Helen, were both early exchange scholars in Japan and were active supporters of Japanese scholars working on developmental biology at the Friday Harbor Laboratories. Whiteley died in April of 2013 after a long life dedicated to science, education, and international collaboration.

Background on Edward Sylvester Morse

In the 1850s, Edward Sylvester Morse was a protégé of Louis Agassiz, then chair of Zoology and Geology at Harvard University. Under Agassiz’s direction, Morse studied marine biology and specialized in conchology. Morse became one of the leading natural scientists of his time and helped develop the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. Agassiz’s ties to the MBL include his founding of “a practical school of natural science, especially devoted to the study of marine zoology” on Penikese Island, an institution which is considered to be the precursor of MBL. Morse taught with Agassiz at the Penikese Island school in 1873 and later was a visiting scientist at the MBL.

Morse’s career focused on the study of brachiopods, bottom-dwelling marine animals that have two shells and are considered living fossils. In 1870, he published The Brachiopods, a Division of the Annelida, which attracted the attention of Charles Darwin. In 1876, he was named a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences. Three years later, he visited Japan in search of coastal brachiopods and became the first Professor of Zoology at the Tokyo Imperial University. At the end of his term, he recommended that the Japanese government hire, as his successor, Charles O. Whitman, later to become the founding director of the MBL. Whitman was Professor of Zoology at Tokyo Imperial University from 1879-1881, during which time he was the first professor to introduce systematic methods of biological research, including the use of microscopes, to Japanese students. Whitman went on to become head professor of the Department of Zoology at the University of Chicago where he used the same systematic methods of scientific research and teaching with his students.

While in Japan, Morse became very interested in Japanese ceramics, pottery, and the Japanese way of life. He was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science from 1886 to 1889, and in 1892 he became the Keeper of Pottery at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, a position he held until his death in 1925. His collection of daily artifacts of the Japanese people can still be seen today at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.

Similar to the Order of the Sacred Treasure (3rd class) that Inoué received from the Japanese government in 2010, Edward Sylvester Morse received the Order of the Rising Sun (3rd class) in 1914 and the Order of the Sacred Treasure (2nd class) in 1922.

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WOODS HOLE–Back by popular demand, “Bodystorming,” a high-energy dance performance/demonstration presented by Black Label Movement of Minneapolis and the MBL Physiology course, will be held Sunday, July 21, in the MBL Club, 100 Water Street.The informal event, which is free and open to the public, is part of the MBL’s 125th Anniversary celebration. There will be two showings: 4 PM and 5:30 PM.

“Bodystorming” is an exciting new movement technique invented collaboratively by dancers and biologists that inspires powerful, athletic  dances as well as insight into cellular dynamics.

Over the past few years, Black Label Movement (BLM), directed by Carl Flink, has been collaborating with MBL Physiology course faculty member David Odde on “The Moving Cell Project.” By having the dancers physically represent cells and molecules, they are exploring the idea of “using dancers to literally embody our scientific hypotheses, in order to quickly convey them to other people,” says Odde, who is a biomedical engineer at University of Minnesota. “We call it bodystorming, which is like brainstorming ideas, but using actual bodies.”

Over the winter, the collaborators published an article, “Science + Dance = Bodystorming,” in Trends in Cell Biology. They also performed at a TED MED Conference. BLM is currently in residence in the MBL Physiology course, following up on a successful residency last summer.

“Bodystorming” is generously supported by the MBL Education Office, the MBL Associates, Larry Pratt and the Doherty Fund at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the University of Minnesota Institute for Advanced Study.



Members of Black Label Movement in Woods Hole, Summer 2012. Credit: Dyche Mullins



ZIP12 RNA marked with blue dye in a frog brain. Credit: Mark Messerli, MBL

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For Immediate Release: June 27, 2013
Contact: Diana Kenney, Marine Biological Laboratory
508-289-7139; dkenney@mbl.edu

WOODS HOLE, Mass.– A new study helps explain how parts of the brain maintain their delicate balance of zinc, an element required in minute but crucial doses, particularly during embryonic development.

The study, led at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) by Mark Messerli in collaboration with scientists from the University of California, Davis, shows that neural cells require zinc uptake through a membrane transporter referred to as ZIP12.. If that route is closed, neuronal sprouting and growth are significantly impaired and is  fatal for a developing embryo. Their discovery was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This particular transporter is an essential doorway for many neurons in the central nervous system,” explains Messerli. “You knock out this one gene, this one particular pathway for the uptake of zinc into these cells, and you essentially prevent neuronal outgrowth. That’s lethal to the embryo.”

Previously, scientists thought that zinc could use more than one pathway to enter the cell during early brain development. Some other elements, like calcium, enjoy such luxury of multiple options.

Knocking out ZIP12, affected several critical processes in the brain, the scientists found. For example, frog embryos were unable to develop their neural systems properly. Additionally, neurons had trouble reaching out to connect to other neurons; their extensions were both shorter and fewer in number than normal.

“We were surprised that ZIP12 was required at such an early and critical stage of development,” said Winyoo Chowanadisai, a researcher in nutrition at the University of California at Davis and visiting scientist in the Cellular Dynamics Program at the MBL. Dr. Chowanadisai was the first on the team to realize that ZIP12 is expressed in such abundance in the brain.“This study also reinforces the importance of periconceptional and prenatal nutrition and counseling to promote health during the earliest stages of life.”

ZIP12 is part of a larger family of transporters involved in the movement of metal ions from outside the cell. Other reports showed that simultaneously blocking 3 other transporters in the family – including  ZIP1, 2, and 3 – had no major effects on embryonic development.

Zinc is needed for healthy neural development, helping the brain to learn and remember new information. However, too much zinc can also be problematic.

The research team is investigating the implications of their results on processes like embryonic brain development and wound healing.

“[The result] was not expected,” said Messerli, a physiologist in the MBL’s Bell Center for Regenerative Biology and Tissue Enginering and Cellular Dynamics Program. ““We found that zinc uptake through ZIP12 is a regulatory point for neuronal growth, required for development and possibly required for learning and memory throughout life. We want to elucidate the downstream targets that zinc is affecting. That’s the next exploration.” 

– Written by Aviva Hope Rutkin

Photo Caption

ZIP12 RNA marked with blue dye in a frog brain.


Chowanadisai W, Graham DM, Keen CL, Rucker RB and Messerli MA (2013) Neurulation and neurite extension require the zinc transporter ZIP12 (slc39a12). PNAS 110: 9903-9908.


The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery and improving the human condition through research and education in biology, biomedicine, and environmental science. Founded in 1888 in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, the MBL is an independent, nonprofit corporation.


Nobel Prize winner Rod MacKinnon had his lunch table rapt.

He was describing a kayaking trip he’d taken a few years earlier. After flipping his boat right-side-up to correct an accidental roll, MacKinnon discovered that he’d narrowly missed sharing the water with a six-foot shark. He watched, frozen in place, as the beast hunted down an unlucky seal. As MacKinnon relayed the tale, graduate students stared at him from around the table, their mouths agape.

This anecdote marked the end of MacKinnon’s annual visit to the MBL’s Neurobiology course to lecture about his area of specialty, potassium channels. The class, which features lectures from numerous visiting scientists, is co-directed by UCSF’s Graeme Davis and Cornell’s Timothy Ryan.

“I love coming back here,” MacKinnon said. “It’s a nice opportunity to teach [students] about your own field and maybe turn on some bright scientists to the stuff you like.”

MacKinnon has been around the MBL for “my whole career,” he says. He first visited the MBL as a post-doc in 1985, shortly after he had decided to pursue a career in research rather than medicine. One of his former professors, Brandeis biochemist Chris Miller, invited MacKinnon to help teach a two-week section on electrophysiology.

Since then, MacKinnon has become internationally recognized for his work on potassium channels, the pathways that potassium ions use to enter the cell. The concentration of such ions inside the cell is crucial in the regulation of many different functions, including neuron firing. In the late 1990s, MacKinnon’s laboratory discovered the structure of these channels using X-ray crystallography. This research helped to explain why the channels admitted potassium ions while blocking much smaller sodium ions. MacKinnon was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work in 2003.

MacKinnon’s Neurobiology lecture at the MBL this year followed the arc of scientific discovery. Using handwritten slides, MacKinnon walked the students through the different questions that scientists had faced when studying these elusive channels. How did they know that the channels were there? How might they divine how the channels functioned? Was there an upper limit on how much potassium could move through at a given time?

“I find it’s easy to learn science if you know the questions that people were faced with at the time,” he explained. “Once it’s all figured out, the synopsis is made and then that’s what future generations learn. But sometimes that synopsis by itself is harder to understand out of the context of the questions at time, so it’s nice to trace the history of how something came to be understood. Once you know that, it’s much easier to understand the concept, and much easier to remember.”

After the lecture, MacKinnon followed the students to lunch at Swope, where they chatted about his views on science and the different research projects the students were involved in. He also shared some his favorite places in the area to grab a bite – and to go kayaking.

“It’s a great honor to see a Nobel Laureate speak,” said Cliff Woodford, a chemistry graduate student from UCSD. “It makes you feel like what you’re doing is important when you get to see the giants in the field.”

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By Aviva Hope Rutkin

Visiting scientist Guillermo Yudowski wants to make sea anemones happy.

Every morning, he arrives at his MBL laboratory and looks into a group of plastic tanks. Inside are samples of Aiptasia pallida, a hardy strain of anemone found in abundance near the University of Puerto Rico, where Yudowski conducts neurobiological research. Happy A. pallida, he says, are “colorful and open”; sad ones are closed and white. The white samples are near death and will only last three to four days in their containers.

Top view of a day-old spawned Porites spp. coral larvae. Composite image seen under a fluorescent microscope. Symbiotic zooxanthellae autofluorescence in red, larvae epidermis autofluorescence in green. Courtesy of Guillermo Yudowski.

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Turning white—becoming, in Yudowski’s words, “sad”—is called bleaching. The anemone’s tissues are home to zooxanthellae, vibrant photosynthetic algae that produce food for the anemone and give it a characteristic brown color. Bleaching expels this algae from their home. The bleaching process is thought to be triggered by stress: a decrease in light availability, for example, or changes in the water’s temperature or pH. And these changes don’t need to be dramatic. A difference of a couple degrees Celsius can be enough to effectively bleach an anemone.

Yodowski and his colleagues hope their research will point to a cost-effective treatment for bleaching, which poses a serious threat not only to anemones, but to the world’s coral reefs. Though anemones and corals are different, strategies that work for the one organism may be effective for another. The changing climate has already led to mass bleaching events in the Great Barrier Reef, as well as coral reefs in the Indian Sea, the Caribbean Sea, and the Florida Keys.

“If you read the literature, some say that all the coral is going to die in 50 years. Others say, maybe 50 to 100,” says Yudowski. “It doesn’t make a big difference.”

To move toward a solution, Yudowski wants to understand what’s happening to the anemones on a microscopic level. If we figure out why bleaching occurs on a cellular level, then perhaps we can discover how to stop it from happening altogether.

“We don’t really know much about the basic molecular mechanics of the process,” explains Yudowski. “We are trying to understand how stresses like increased ocean temperature and acidification induce the expulsion of the algae.”

Yudowski and his student, Michael Marty-Rivera, are treating anemones with antioxidant compounds found in red wine and green tea. Previous research shows that reactive oxygen species, a kind of chemically reactive molecule, can trigger the bleaching process. Yudowski and Marty-Rivera think that these antioxidants might be able to counteract the effects of these trigger molecules. They will test the efficacy of their treatments by measuring the amount of photosynthetic activity in the anemones, as well as the number of zooxanthellae present.

Yudowski and Marty-Rivera will spend two months at the MBL this summer before returning to the University of Puerto Rico where, in close collaboration with Professors Loretta Roberson and Joshua Rosenthal, they run several different coral research projects. They want to understand the mechanism of calcification in corals and how environmental variables, such as temperature and pH, impact corals’ ability to form reefs and maintain a healthy symbiosis with their zooxanthellae partners.

Funding for the research is provided by the Puerto Rico Center for Environmental Neuroscience and the National Science Foundation Center of Research Excellence in Science and Technology.

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