When I stepped into the Institute of Genetics, Mainz, I stepped into the world of neural development – I was like Aladdin in the Cave of Wonders! It was all so new to me – so exciting, and so much to learn!
Prof. Gerhard Technau’s group worked on different aspects of Drosophila neural development – either a particular cell type (eg. neuroblasts/neurons/glia) or a part of the nervous system (eg. brain/ventral nerve cord).
I was working with Dr. Christian Berger, who was so much fun – he was as excited to teach, as I was to learn!
Dr. Olaf Vef, fondly called the ‘fly doctor’, helped me with the fly work. He’s a whiz at fly genetics, and I’m sure he has the 1000 odd list of his fly stocks catalogued in his memory, available for any-time recall!
I learnt the A B C of embryology, and what I hope, at least the A of neurobiology.
I learned to identify different stages of the embryo, different segments in an embryo. (Though I still can never be certain of the stage – can only say the maximum probability. Olaf says it’s a little like voodoo – rarely would you find an embryo at a stage where it looks exactly as in the text books – it’s so dynamic.)
I learned to dissect embryos so I could look at them at the cellular level. This wasn’t so easy – an embryo itself is hardly seen without a microscope (it’s about 0.5mm). And different stages needed a slight variation of technique.
The protein I was working on had a broad expression pattern, but I got a lot of help for interpreting images. I learnt to identify sub-types of cells through relative position and intensity of expression of markers.
The seminars, and discussions thereafter were very stimulating. I got to learn from everyone here – through individual discussions and ‘chats’ in the kitchen during breaks!
Inside the University, everyone spoke English so I had no trouble at all. Even outside, I managed with ‘wo, rechts, links, bitte, vielen danke ‘ (Where, right, left, please, thank you very much) and sign-language. (When I couldn’t, there was always someone around to help, so I didn’t find the language barrier much of a problem.)
The Fremde werden Freunde (Foreigners become Friends) group had meeings every month. (I could only attend 2, but they were fun!) The group also got me ‘local hosts’ in Marga and Kim, who introduced me to German culture and traditions. (I was lucky to be here during Christmas time! Though I wish I had more time and money to spend at the Christmas markets…)
The transport system was awesome – as regular as notes in a song.
I suppose the formation of life fascinates not the scientist alone – even the philosopher, the theologist, the clinician and the wayside man are known to have pondered over it.
My visit here gave me a lot to think about – I call this place a veritable ‘scientific heaven’ and the eponymous ‘temple of learning’ mentioned in text-books.
I cherish my memories of here, and I hope the road to reality takes a U-turn and leads me right back!
And I must say – I regard Development and the Company of Biologists as the fairy God-mother, who arranged my visit to ‘the ball’!