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MBL Embryology Course 2017
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The Embryology Course at the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole took place this summer for the 124th time. The course provides an in depth overview of the theory and the experimental techniques in classic and modern developmental biology. The six-week course is taught by 60 faculty and many TAs that spent between a few days to a week with the students in the course. The students experiment with an amazing variety of developing organisms spanning the evolutionary tree, such as C. elegans, echinoderms, tardigrades, arthropods, insects, nematostella, squid, sea urchins, ascidians, chicken, frogs, mice, zebrafish and many others. Popular with the students has been the one-week zebrafish module co-directed by Elke Ober (DanStem, University of Copenhagen, Denmark) and Tatjana Piotrowski (Stowers Institute, Kansas City, USA) assisted by Sara Caviglia and Joaquin Navajas Acedo (Ober and Piotrowski lab, respectively). David Grunwald (University of Utah, USA) laid out the current state of genome engineering in zebrafish, lecturing about functional knock-OUTs, knock-INs and single nucleotide changes.


During that week the students had the opportunity to design and execute experiments choosing between 15 different transgenic lines, a large variety of RNAs, DNAs for labeling subcellular structures, single cells or large parts of the embryo and different CRISPR gRNAs and morpholinos to manipulate gene function. In addition, the students learned how to perform transplantation experiments and how to image embryos using the latest models of microscopes and equipment, such as light sheet, spinning disc, Evos microscopes, laser ablation systems etc. that were lent to the course by Zeiss, Nikon, ASI, Leica, Bruker, Keyence, ThermoFisher, Biovision, and Oko labs.

A particular feature of the course is the unique opportunity to try (nearly every) experiment one can think of in the species taught at that time of the course including applying tools or ideas from other organisms. The best example is the exchange with the frog module, which is taught in parallel in the same week. Testing constructs across both species, comparing developmental mechanisms and unique experimental features highlight the strengths of either system. In addition, bringing together 24 motivated students from all around the world with interdisciplinary scientific backgrounds (wet lab and dry lab biologists) and at different career stages (PhD students, postdocs and professors) generates a vibrant atmosphere of creative experimentation and late night time-lapse imaging and discussions.


Student quotes best encapsulate the spirit of the Embryology course: ‘Thank you so very much for a wonderful and incredibly rewarding time here at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole. I feel that I will now be much better equipped to design experiments that will answer my questions during my research. For example, I now know, and have had experience in a number of experimental techniques that before I was only aware of theoretically.’ (Rebecca Jones). Or, as Sara described it: ‘It was my first year as TA and the first time I visited Woods Hole. I immediately asked myself, why haven’t I ever come here before, especially as a student? The atmosphere created in the course and by the people at MBL is something magical, where you have the opportunity to interact with everybody at any level and you quickly feel like in a family. The freedom given to the students, their hard work and motivation and the stimulating lectures and interactions with instructors helped me to think outside the box and come back home with lots of new and exciting ideas and plans.'


Joaquin (who was an Embryology student in 2016) said: ‘This year, I came back as a TA for the Zebrafish part, and I really enjoyed it. First, because the students are great. They work very hard and come up with great ideas to test their hypotheses. I got exposed to a lot of new ideas and perspectives, and even came up with experiments I’d like to try when I’m back in the lab. Second, teaching was a new, valuable experience for me: One does not realize how much you ignore about what you do every day until you have to explain it to somebody who is not in the field, or even a biologist.'


We strongly encourage students and postdocs to consider participating in the Marine Biological Laboratory Embryology course. As one student put it: ‘I can positively say it was one of the best experiences in my life as a scientist’. 





Tatjana Piotrowski (Stowers Institute for Medical Research)
Elke Ober (University of Copenhagen)
Sarah Caviglia
Joaquin Navajas Acedo
People to Follow:
Dan Stem - @UCPH_DanStem
Stowers - @sciencestowers
Joaquin Navajas Acedo - @MadS100tist


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