The Node has featured many interesting posts in collaboration with the Woods Hole MBL embryology course in the last few years. Students write every year about their experiences in the course, while the beautiful images (and for the first time movies) produced in the course feature in the Development cover competitions. 2013 marks the 120th anniversary of the course, and we have reposted here an article about this anniversary in the summer issue of the magazine MBL Catalyst . We have also interviewed one of the current co-directors of the course, Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, and you can read the interview here.
“I don’t know what generates the enthusiasm and energy at the MBL. We engage in science almost every hour of every day. Perhaps it’s the access to the best scientific equipment around—the sheer quantity of reagents and quality of microscopes available is stunning. However, more likely it’s being removed from my regular graduate school environment. There is no pressure to generate data, no lab meetings to prepare. There is only active experimentation. I am encouraged to ask my own questions and take ridiculous risks. At the same time, there is enough structure to ensure that I am learning the principles of developmental biology at an alarming pace.”
—Andrew Mathewson, 2012 Embryology student blogging at The Node (the node.biologists.com)
This summer brings another MBL anniversary to celebrate: the 120th session of the Embryology course. The course was founded in 1893 by MBL Director Charles Otis Whitman, who taught it with his student, Frank Rattray Lillie, both of whom hailed from the University of Chicago’s Zoology Department. According to a course description written by some of its former directors, Whitman and Lillie were among the “leading figures in the newly formulated cellular science of developmental biology” which posited that “the mysteries of the process by which an egg turns into an embryo would yield to a comparative approach,” with the eggs and embryos of marine organisms being of particular interest, since “the sea provides the greatest biological diversity.”
The course today still embraces this comparative approach, now incorporating a wide variety of developmental systems, including genetic models such as the fruit fly, mouse, and zebrafish. Currently directed by Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado (Howard Hughes Medical Institute/Stowers Institute) and Richard Behringer (MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas), the course brings together leading faculty and students in an intensive research experience that explores the latest paradigms, problems, and technologies in modern developmental biology. “MBL Embryology is considered the premier course on animal developmental biology anywhere,” says historian Jane Maienschein of Arizona State University, director of the History of the MBL Project.
The Embryology course is presenting a special symposium this summer at which former directors, faculty and students will discuss their research, and consider the course’s role in shaping the practice of science. “Throughout its existence, the Embryology course has served as a continuum in which many minds have been connected to a timeline by a common thread: love of learning for the sake of learning,” says Sánchez Alvarado. “Given the immense opportunities for the exploration of biological diversity afforded by current technologies, we expect the Embryology course to continue its pedagogical and scientific leadership, but most importantly to carry on inspiring the minds of all of its participants for at least another 120 years.”
From MBL Catalyst, Summer 2013, Volume 8, No. 1, page 7. Reprinted with permission from the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Mass., USA.