Archive for April, 2014

A whimsical, enlightening video about cuttlefish camouflage by Jacob Gindi, a senior and biology major at Brown University, appeared in The New York Times last week. Gindi had encountered live cuttlefish when he visited the MBL’s Marine Resources Center as a student in The Art and Science of Visual Perception, a Brown course co-taught by Roger Hanlon of the MBL and Mark Milloff of Rhode Island School of Design. Gindi then had a chance to make a CreatureCast video in Casey Dunn’s Invertebrate Zoology class at Brown. Inspired by Hanlon’s research, Gindi’s artful video about the cuttlefish’s amazingly adaptive skin can be enjoyed by marine biology-lovers of all ages.

“It is so gratifying to see science and art promoted at this national/international scale,” says Hanlon, an MBL senior scientist and professor in Brown’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department through the Brown-MBL Partnership and Graduate Program.

CreatureCast, a collaborative blog produced by members of the Dunn Lab, is supported by a National Science Foundation grant.

 

 

Pedestrians in Edinburgh, Scotland, have been treated to a springtime display of giant photos of “glowing” or bioluminescent animals, including images of the jellyfish Aequorea aequorea captured by MBL Distinguished Scientist and 2008 Nobel Laureate Osamu Shimomura (panel behind girl on bike).

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The display, called “Living Lights,” was part of the 2014 Edinburgh International Science Festival and this week is moving to another venue in Edinburgh, Our Dynamic Earth, where it will remain through October.

Shimomura took these photos of Aequorea in 1961, when he was a young chemist at Princeton University asking, “What makes the jellyfish glow?” He captured thousands of jellyfish from the waters off Friday Harbor, Washington, and painstakingly searched for their bioluminescence molecule. The two photos on top (below) and at the one at bottom left he took in daylight, shooting directly into the clear Friday Harbor water, using a Nikon F camera and 50 mm lens. Shimomura brought one jellyfish into a darkroom and exposed it to fresh water to trigger its luminescence, allowing him to capture the phenomena on camera (bottom right).

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Shimomura did find and isolate the jellyfish’s bioluminescence protein—which he called “aequorin” –that year, and in the process he also discovered a fluorescent jellyfish protein that he called “green protein.”

Years later, in 1994, Martin Chalfie of Columbia University discovered that the jellyfish’s green fluorescent protein (GFP) could be an extremely useful tool for lighting up microscopic cells and their parts for study. GFP and other fluorescent proteins are now used in biomedical research worldwide, and they have been crucial in illuminating many processes that were previously invisible, such as the development of nerve cells or the spread of cancer. Shimomura, Chalfie, and Roger Tsien of University of California, San Diego, were awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their contributions to GFP’s discovery and applications.

The "Living Lights" photo exhibit of bioluminescent organisms in front of the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh.

The “Living Lights” photo exhibit of bioluminescent organisms in front of the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Spring 2014.

 

MBL Distinguished Scientist Osamu Shimomura at Friday Harbor, Washington, in 2003. Photo by Martin Chalfie

MBL Distinguished Scientist Osamu Shimomura at Friday Harbor, Washington, in 2003. Photo by Martin Chalfie

 

Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago, officially began serving as chairman of the MBL Board of Trustees last weekend when the board met in New York City. President Zimmer succeeds John W. Rowe of Columbia University, who had served as board chairman since 2006.

President Zimmer’s succession as board chair had been unanimously supported by the MBL trustees at their meeting in November, 2013. More information on President Zimmer, Dr. Rowe, and new members of the MBL Board of Trustees is here. Sincere thanks to Dr. Rowe for his very important years of service to the MBL, and a warm welcome to President Zimmer.

Jack Rowe, left, president of the MBL Board of Trustees since 2006, with new Chairman of the MBL Board Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago, in New York City last weekend. Credit: James Sharp

Jack Rowe, left, chairman of the MBL Board of Trustees since 2006, with new MBL Board Chairman Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago, last weekend in New York City. Credit: James Sharp

Congratulations to MBL’s Linda Amaral Zettler and colleagues, whose paper introducing the “Plastisphere” has been named “First Runner Up: Best Environmental Science Papers of 2013″ by the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The journal’s editors selected the winners from more than 1,730 papers it published last year on a range of topics in environmental science, technology, and policy.

Plastic debris from the ocean. Credit: Erik Zettler

Plastic debris from the ocean. Credit: Erik Zettler

The Plastisphere, a novel ecological habitat, is the flotilla of microbial communities attached to bits of plastic debris in the ocean. Amaral Zettler collaborated with Erik Zettler of Sea Education Association and Tracy Mincer of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to collect the samples (most of which were millimeter-sized pieces of plastic)  in the North Atlantic Ocean and analyze their microbial passengers. The Plastisphere, they say, raises a host of questions. How does it change environmental conditions for marine microbes and their competion for survival? How does it change the ocean ecosystem and affect larger organisms? Does it change where microbes, including pathogens, are transported in the ocean? Because plastics are so long-lived, the scientists say, they may play a significant role in distributing bacteria in the ocean.

Zettler ER, Mincer TJ, and Amaral-Zettler LA (2013) Life in the ‘Plastisphere’: Microbial communities on marine plastic debris. Env. Sci. & Tech. DOI: 10.1021/es401288x

Eight undergraduates from the University of Chicago spent a day discovering MBL science last week, having “trekked” to Woods Hole with the UChicago Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (UCISTEM) program.

xxxx watch a green sea urchin release its gametes into seawater while visiting the MBL’s Cellular Dynamics Program on Tuesday, March 25. The students were visiting the MBL with the UChicago Careers in Science, Technology, and Mathematics Program.

University of Chicago undergraduates Sarah Kurtis (left) and Margaret Lee watch a green sea urchin release its gametes into seawater while visiting the MBL’s Cellular Dynamics Program on Tuesday, March 25. The students were visiting the MBL with the UChicago Careers in Science, Technology, and Mathematics Program.

The program helps UChicago students explore and prepare for a STEM-related career by providing opportunities such as workshops, internships, and trips or treks to STEM employers in industry and academia.

The MBL visitors included both science and humanities majors, with career interests ranging from neuroscience to marine biology, science writing to bioinspired design.

While at MBL, the students fertilized sea urchin eggs with guidance from scientists in the Cellular Dynamics Program; toured the Marine Resources Center and the National Xenopus Resource; learned about cephalopod camouflage, sea lamprey regeneration, and the Encyclopedia of Life; and discussed science journalism with Heather Goldstone, science editor at WCAI.

Later, they toured Woods Hole Science Aquarium and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where they also met a representative from Hydroid, Inc. An impeding blizzard precluded their planned visit to Woods Hole Research Center.

A student studies sea urchin eggs prior to fertilization.

A University of Chicago student studies sea urchin eggs prior to fertilizing them.

The visiting undergraduates were: Medha Biswas (Biology major), who is returning to the MBL this summer through a University of Chicago Metcalf Internship to work with UChicago neurobiologist and Whitman investigator William Green; Lyda Harris (Biological Science/Visual Art minor), Katalina Kimball-Linares (Biology), Sarah M. Kurtis (Biology), Margaret Lee (Chemistry), Tyler Lutz (Physics and English), Eliza Nieweglowska (Chemistry), and Lauren Vogel (English Language and Literature). They were accompanied by Andrea Dieckmann, senior associate director, University of Chicago Pre-Professional Programs and director, UCISTEM Program.