By Rachel Foley

Every July, the Woods Hole community anticipates an event that is unique on Cape Cod, and possibly 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 quirky. The parade, which takes over Water Street, draws a large audience to this tiny village, from locals to summer people 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 passionate crew down the road.

Several memorable participants from the MBL included Grass Fellows and faculty, wearing grass hula skirts and hats and carrying humorous signs. The crew from the Marine Resources Department were preceded by manager Dave Remsen, riding his handmade horseshoe crab creation. Another clever use of cardboard came in the form of a model of the Gemma, the MBL’s collecting boat, carried by members of the Biology of Parasitism summer course. Other 2015 MBL courses were represented, including Embryology and Neural Systems and Behavior, bearing costumes and props to act out various scientific 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 bandannas, and jelly fish represented by girls holding decorated umbrellas.

Spectators and participants enjoyed refreshing watermelon slices outside the MBL Club to wrap up the festivities. The MBL Club’s annual Fourth of July Parade is a 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

Summer at MBL is busy, beautiful, and quickly over, but time is still devoted to planning for the future. Students and early-career scientists looking for their next steps don’t have to go far for advice, because each Wednesday during lunch,the SUCCESS program tackles an important aspect of career planning.

From crafting a resumé to getting funded to choosing a mentor, different career topics are addressed each week by a panel of successful scientists.. The atmosphere is informal, so attendees are comfortable asking questions and sparking discussion.

A quick survey of attendees at last week’s SUCCESS workshop proved roughly half were undergraduates, a quarter were graduate students, and a quarter were post-docs, with a few research technicians and assistants as well. The panel discussion on “Choosing Your Career: Academia and Other Not-for-Profitsoffered something for everyone to consider, regardless of career stage.

Panelist Steve Zottoli, MBL’s Co-Director of Education, stressed the importance of mentors. “Finding the right mentor is so critical. You have to take an active role in finding the right mentor who believes in you so much that they take you to the next level,” he said. As students and early-career scientists find their mentors and their places in the scientific community, the SUCCESS series makes sure they are not without good advice.

SUCCESS workshops are held on Wednesdays through July 29 in the Meigs Room, Swope Center, with lunch beginning at 11:30 AM. The full schedule is here: http:/www.mbl.edu/SUCCESS/

The SUCCESS series (Shaping and Understanding Career Choices in Education, Science, and Self) is a project of a dedicated, MBL community-wide committee led by Bill Reznikoff, MBL Director of Education.

The MBL’s collecting boat, the Gemma, has had a few passengers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution of late: Aran Mooney, a biologist, and Casey Zakroff, an MIT-WHOI Joint Program graduate student. Mooney and Zakaroff are studying the impact of ocean acidification on squid, using data they collected with the help of the Gemma’s captain and crew. (Ocean acidification is the ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans, caused by the uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.)

Along with being a key species in the oceanic food web, squid have a multimillion-dollar impact on the human food industry. They are a vital component to the marine ecosystem’s wellbeing, as well as ours, making it crucial to monitor any risks that threaten healthy growth.

In the film, Is Ocean Acidification Affecting Squid?, produced by Daniel Cojanu, Mooney and Zakroff show how rising pH levels may be impacting a local and much prized marine species.

 

Kristin Gribble, assistant research scientist in the MBL’s Bay Paul Center, was awarded the “Runner-Up Best Paper Prize 2014” by the journal Aging Cell and the Council of the Anatomical Society. The award recognizes her paper, “Maternal caloric restriction partially rescues the deleterious effects of advanced maternal age on offspring” (Gribble K.E., G. Jarvis, M. Bock and D.B. Mark Welch Aging Cell 13: 623-630, 2014).

Gribble and colleagues discovered that advanced maternal age reduces the lifespan, fecundity, and size of offspring in the rotifer (B. manjavacas), a tiny aquatic animal that is becoming established as a model organism for aging research. However, the researchers were able to reduce the severity of some of these effects by putting the mothers on a calorie-restricted diet. More information is here.

female-Brachionus-manjavacas--rotifer-with-egg-by-Kristin-Gribble

« Previous PageNext Page »