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Exploring Embryology at the Woods Hole MBL

Posted by , on 25 June 2013

After two weeks of intense work in the Woods Hole MBL Embryology course, I am beginning to understand why this course compels TAs, faculty and students from around the world to return year after year. The 24 students in the 2013 Embryology class work on a diverse set of organisms including worms, mice, chick, coral, dinosaurs, and lophotrochozoans, but we are tied together by our interest in development.

Our desire to understand development brought us to this six-week course featuring daily lectures, discussion and many hours of work in the lab with a variety of model systems. It is intense work, but at the same time, it’s all play. In the last two weeks together, we’ve studied how sea urchin, nematode, and arthropod eggs turn into swimming or crawling larvae. Adding sea urchin eggs and sperm together, we watched the vitelline envelope balloon indicating fertilization. Timelapse movies captured cell divisions, gastrulation, filopodial dynamics, and organ development. With confocal microscopes, we examined localization of proteins and RNAs to understand patterning and created 3D reconstructions of embryos.

The most striking thing to me about the MBL has been not the plethora of embryos or the microscopes, but the community of scientists it builds. The course directors and many of the speakers were students of the course, with stories and fond recollections. The faculty, course directors, and TAs worked with us all day and most of the night, troubleshooting microscopes or antibody staining and providing a wealth of experience and knowledge. As a student, I have the privilege of being a part of this community, working where many scientists, including T. H. Morgan, did their summer research. Much of the rich heritage of the MBL is showcased in the WHOI library rare books room, which features Morgan’s traveling microscope, multiple Nobel prizes, and scientific texts dating back to the 1500’s.

Our time at Woods Hole so far has already changed how we look at the world. You approach murky seawater with fascination, because you will find fish and snail embryos. I look at my research with a broader perspective and am excited to discover unexpected connections between my work and my classmates’ research.  You are confident enough to tackle new techniques and ask questions boldly; to gain experience through work and interactions with faculty. I can’t wait to see what the next four weeks hold.

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Categories: Education, Research

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