It’s been four full weeks since I arrived at the MBL Embryology course. Over that time, I came to appreciate the heritage left by previous generations of scientists at the MBL. This year marks the 120th anniversary of the Embryology course, which trained an unbroken line of eager scientists. One can easily see this spirit inherited in the passion and enthusiasm of our instructors, TAs and colleagues. While access to SEM, lightsheet and confocal microscopes and precise microinjection rigs available to us was thrilling, it was the people and their sincere attitude towards biology that overwhelmed me.
This course was a rare opportunity for me to observe embryonic development first-hand, as my research focuses on regeneration. At the MBL, I worked with chick and mouse embryos for the first time, and the beauty of their development captivated me. Watching the extraordinary feat of development executed on a routine and predictable basis inspired my curiosity. I was also impressed by the experimental and analytical techniques we learned over the course, such as electroporation, transgenic manipulations, 4D movies of development, and culture methods.
Zebrafish and Xenopus allowed us to take advantage of these methods in a comprehensive approach to understand gastrulation, or to focus on morphogenesis and organogenesis using cell-lineage tracing, transplantation, knockouts and morpholinos. This course environment encouraged attempting many new techniques and creative experiments. After discussing ideas and experimental designs with fellow students, I decided to perform cross-species transplantations between zebrafish and Xenopus. I inactivated the Spemann organizer in Xenopus by injecting a beta catenin morpholino and then attempted to rescue development by grafting the zebrafish organizer onto the frog host. One of the resulting embryos formed body axes correctly. Though it was eventually inviable, it first developed unmistakable somites and showed signs of movement. I could not think of getting my hands on an experiment like this elsewhere.
Along with all the experimental tools and techniques, we benefited from in-depth lectures and discussions with leading experts on their cutting-edge research. Each brought beautiful images, novel perspectives and compelling ideas. Their passion for developmental biology is infectious; they are all absolute inspirations to me. They always make me think: “How could I not have thought of that?” My world seems bigger now: full of more questions, more experimental approaches and more perspectives. I hope to continue my work following this course with this enthusiasm, determined to keep a broad understanding of developmental biology.