Ever wonder what it takes to keep MBL scientists working away? Here’s a clue, in the form of a time-lapse video of the daily upkeep required for the many zebrafish being studied at the MBL this summer. University of Chicago undergraduates Melissa Li and Clara Kao pressed “go” on a video camera and then went about their daily routine of feeding, cleaning, and generally caring for all the fish in the Zebrafish Facility. “We basically make sure everyone is happy and healthy,” Kao says. The 24-second video went up on a blog they’re keeping on their summer of research at the MBL: Summer People, Some Are Not (tagline: Some Are Zebrafish).


These two rising juniors are working in Jonathan Gitlin’s lab this summer, a change from the labs they work in back in Chicago. “When you switch labs for the summer, you get a different sort of snippet of the scientific world,” Li says. Both are interested in coming back to the MBL after the summer is over- Kao is in fact here for her second summer, and is interested in coming back for the Physiology course. With any luck, the blog and video collection will get a chance to expand.

The family, friends, and colleagues of Catherine N. Norton (1941-2014), former director of the MBLWHOI Library, gathered in Lillie Auditorium on June 19 to honor her memory. As befitting Norton, who was ever-positive and energetic, the event was inspiring, enlightening, and celebratory of her life, family, and pioneering professional accomplishments.

Family, friends and colleagues of Cathy Norton gathered in Lillie Auditorium to celebrate her life. Credit: Tom Kleindinst

Cathy Norton’s family, friends, and colleagues gathered in Lillie Auditorium to share stories of her life and great contributions to library science. Credit: Tom Kleindinst

Speakers at the celebration honored Norton’s vision and vibrancy, and her major legacy to the library sciences worldwide through her prescient leadership in establishing digital collections, databases, and informatics tools at the MBLWHOI Library. Excerpts from the speakers’ remarks are below.

Diane Rielinger, co-director of the MBLWHOI Library, announced the Catherine N. Norton Endowed Fellowship, which has received donations from more than 110 family members, friends, and colleagues. This endowed fund will support projects by students or early-career fellows that use the MBLWHOI Library or Archives and uphold the principles Norton championed by being “openly accessible, collaborative, innovative, connective, and laying the foundation for new scientific knowledge.”


Cathy always made sure we thought big. She encouraged us to see only opportunities—there were never problems. She didn’t just embrace technology; she pushed it forward with innovative programs that increased access and discovery, such as the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Cathy made sure our library was the first one out of the gate to digitize our collection with the project’s funding, and we developed procedures and policies that others adopted when they started scanning their collections. We learned an incredible amount so fast. — Diane Rielinger, Co-director, MBLWHOI Library

Cathy was one of the most amazingly effective and fun people I have ever worked with. She was a larger-than-life-sized person. Cathy was held in very high repute in library circles: She put MBL in the world league of libraries. And the most important thing to her was family.
— Donald Lindberg, Director Emeritus, National Library of Medicine

Cathy was far ahead of the curve in the Woods Hole community with respect to electronic journals and databases and “informatics.” The community owes a great debt of gratitude to Cathy for her vision, leadership, and hard work that kept the MBLWHOI Library at the forefront of library science and services, and well poised for the future. I assume that by now Cathy has assumed leadership of the Celestial Library and Archives. If so, they are in for an exciting time in the Celestial Realm! — John Farrington, Dean Emeritus, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Cathy exemplified the “sanguine” temperament: open, caring, creative, bubbly, open to human beings but concerned about subject matter. Years ago, I asked her whether a journal should be published in print or digital formats. She said, “Do it both ways: for the present and for the future.” — Gerald Weissmann, Editor-in-Chief, The FASEB Journal and MBL Trustee Emeritus

My work with Cathy was a wonderful ride. We managed to be in the right place and time when new Internet technology came along and she found the money to wire the MBL. She enabled and supported me in the ability to discover and learn by doing, and she also gave me critical life lessons in how to lead a team. And Cathy always managed to have a lot of fun along the way. — David Remsen, director of MBL Marine Resources, who worked with Norton on MBL information systems (including the development of uBio) from 1991-2006

Cathy was a force of nature. The lessons she taught to all of us graduate students on the digital History of the MBL Project were a result of her indomitable spirit, pushing through every roadblock, and her joie de vivre. We carry these qualities forward in the project.
— Kate MacCord, project manager, MBL History Project

Cathy was exceedingly easy to love. She was an audacious friend. — John Monahan, family friend

I never met Cathy, but this is what I have heard about her: “inspirational but funny,” “very determined but kind,” “incredibly focused but managed to be positive.” These are the attributes we want to continue at MBL. — Hunt Willard, MBL President and Director

Audience members also shared their memories, many humorous, touching, or revealing of Norton’s “can-do” spirit. The memorial concluded with music performed by the Falmouth a capella group Notescape.


If you check the MBL’s Twitter feed during the summer months, you’ll be treated to quick, highly enthusiastic, and often visually beautiful dispatches from the MBL’s Summer Courses. The students and faculty are pursuing up-to-the-minute questions in life sciences research using a wide array of high-end imaging equipment, and some of the images they produce are eye-popping. Here are just a few recent Twitter posts from MBL students and faculty:

Vincent Boudreau (@viboud), a graduate student in the Physiology Course from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Tweeted out this video, which he and several students made during the course’s biochemistry bootcamp under the supervision of Sabine Petry of Princeton University and Robert Fischer of the National Institutes of Health. “This bootcamp experiment taught us students how to do the biochemical legwork involved to get these microtubules to give us such stunning images,” Boudreau says. Microtubules (red) can be seen branching off of one another, marked by the green EB1 protein at their outwardly growing extremity. Video made with a Nikon TIRF microscope.

The MBL Embryology Course, tweeting under the hashtag #embryo2015, has shared one striking image after another. This is a tardigrade (a bizarre-looking, microscopic, water-dwelling animal) imaged with light-sheet microscopy by two students in the course: Christina Zakas, a post-doc at New York University who tweets @CZakDerv, and Nick Shikuma, a post-doc at Caltech.


Tardigrade stained with DAPI to highlight nuclei and imaged on the Zeiss lighsheet Z1. Credit: C. Zakas and N. Shikuma, MBL Embryology course

Speaking of Embryology, several students in the course are blogging about their MBL experiences at the Node, an online community resource run by The Company of Biologists.  Check out their impressions of the course — its sheer intensity, its “exquisite coordination,” and the fun that balances all the hard work.

Embryology Course Co-director Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, an expert Tweeter, once in a while reminds the students to step back from the bench, take a deep breath, and enjoy the beauty of Woods Hole. He called this scene “the rewards of Eel Pond after a rich day of learning and experimentation.”

Eel Pond, Woods Hole. Credit: Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado of the Stowers Institute/HHMI

Eel Pond, Woods Hole. Credit: Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado of the Stowers Institute/HHMI


Every July, the community of Woods Hole happily anticipates one unique event. There is nothing else quite like it on Cape Cod, or probably in the whole country. The annual Fourth of July parade organized by the MBL Club is a festive celebration of all things Woods Hole, from the MBL itself to sea life, science, and all things random. It is a quirky parade that proudly takes over Water street beginning at 12 noon every July 4th. It draws a large audience in this tiny town, from locals to summertime regulars to unsuspecting tourists just looking for a cup of coffee. Leading the parade was this year’s grand marshal, Jack Gilbert, an associate professor from the University of Chicago. As a band played enthusiastically behind him, Gilbert lead the miscellaneous yet passionate crew down the road.

Several memorable participants from the MBL included Grass Foundation fellows and faculty, wearing their grass skirts and hats while carrying signs with phrases such as “Lower Animal Rights Now.” The crew from the Marine Resources Department were preceded by manager Dave Remsen, riding his handmade horseshoe crab creation that he assembled by attaching cardboard to his bicycle. Another clever use of cardboard came in the form of a model of the Gemma, an MBL collecting boat, that was carried by members of the Biology of Parasitism summer course. Other 2015 MBL Advanced Research courses were represented, including the Embryology course and the Neural Systems and Behavior course, which entailed costumes and props to act out various scientific functions and processes. The Biology of Parasitism course also dressed as a few of their research organisms, while the Summer Program in Neuroscience, Ethics, and Survival (SPINES) course dressed as pirates. Spectators could clearly see how much fun those walking in the parade had, though it was not always clear to the onlookers what some participants represented.

More notable characters included “Lobster Claus” (envision a Santa Claus-lobster hybrid), the Woods Hole folk dancers showcasing their moves, several dogs sporting patriotic bandanas, and some homemade jelly fish assembled by young girls holding decorated umbrellas. A rainbow banner announced the marriage equality group who were celebrating the recent groundbreaking Supreme Court decision by holding hands and singing the Dixie Cups’ hit song “Chapel of Love” joyfully.

Spectators and participants alike enjoyed some refreshing watermelon outside the MBL club to wrap up the festivities. The MBL Club’s annual Fourth of July Parade is a truly one-of-a-kind event that showcases what a special place Woods Hole is, year after year.

By Kelsey Calhoun

Chronic pain gets a fair amount of attention from researchers, but chronic itch, such as eczema or psoriasis, can cause just as much distress. Chronic itch can result from a variety of skin, nervous system or systemic disorders, and many drugs, including some antidepressants, can cause terrible itch as a side effect. There are few effective treatments for such intense and chronic itching, despite being a relatively common affliction: Eczema alone affects nearly 10 percent of people worldwide.

But good news may be on the horizon. A team of scientists, including faculty and students in the MBL Neurobiology Course, have identified a new gene that promotes itching, suggesting a way forward to a better understanding and, perhaps, to powerful new therapies.

Dr. Diana Bautista

MBL Neurobiology Course faculty member Diana Bautista of University of California, Berkeley. Credit: MarkJosephStudio.com

To identify genes that mediate itch, the team, led by Diana Bautista of the University of California, Berkeley, and Rachel Brem at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, studied itch behavior across genetically distinct mouse strains.  Just as eczema and allergic itch can run in families, they found that some mouse strains were more likely to develop chronic itch and could pass this trait onto their progeny. They then compared gene expression levels in the itch-prone and itch-resistant mice, specifically in the sensory neurons that innervate the skin and mediate itch sensations.

They discovered that mice naturally expressing high levels of a particular gene, HTR7, were exceptionally itchy. This caught their attention, because HTR7 codes for a serotonin receptor, and “high levels of serotonin in the skin have long been known to correlate with itch severity in a variety of human chronic itch disorders,” Bautista says. They also discovered, in a mouse model of eczema, that activation of HTR7 triggered itch-evoked scratching while ablation of HTR7 significantly diminished itch.   

Some of the key work on the paper was done by three students in the MBL Neurobiology Course in 2014. Anne Olsen, Michael Kienzler, and Kyle Lyman worked with Bautista, a faculty member in the course, to identify some of the mechanisms by which activation of HTR7 promotes chronic itch signaling in the nervous system.  All three students appear as co-authors on the paper.

Understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying chronic itch is of significant clinical interest and there is much more to learn. “Abnormal behavior of three cell types mediate chronic itch,” says Bautista, “skin cells, neurons, and immune system cells. We want to discover the mechanisms that promote itch, and also what long-term changes in these cell types maintain chronic conditions.” In the meantime, the HTR7 receptor offers an exciting potential drug target for new medications seeking to sooth intense itchiness.

Citation: Morita T et al (2015). HTR7 Mediates Serotonergic Acute and Chronic Itch. Neuron, DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2015.05.044

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