Although I live on the west coast of British Columbia, I find myself writing this from the east coast of the United States. Fog horns echo into the night as a thick blanket settles on the waters surrounding Woods Hole. For the next 10 days I will be attending the Logan Science Journalism Fellowship offered by the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) located in Woods Hole, Mass. The MBL is the oldest private marine laboratory in North America. To quote the introductory video, "MBL is to marine biologists what Paris is to artists." More than 50 Nobel Laureates have studied, researched or have taught at this facility. There's more to MBL than the obvious interest in things in the water. The facility conducts research on ecosystems, and cell biology as it relates to humans. They also use sea creatures to conduct studies on biomedical, biological and ecological issues. If that weren't ambitious enough, they are the brains behind the Encyclopedia of Life project. The aim of this web site is to create a page for all 1.8 million species that live on our planet. Ooops make that 1,800,002 million as more species are discovered each day.
MBL has selected 15 journalists from around the world who will be working with scientists on two programs. One group has headed out into the marshlands on Cape Cod to study the effects of pollution on the ecology and the environment. I was delighted not to join them as they headed off into the wilderness, sleeping bags and packed dinners in hand. Instead I had a leisurely stroll down the campus to the lab where I was allowed to play with really cool microscopes. This week I will be studying sea urchins and seeing how the cells of these simple creatures related to humans.
The course is a boot camp in basic biomedical research. It would be an understatement to say that the material is heavy. We are looking at genomes and molecular genetics as they relate to humans and diseases. So why sea urchins? To quote from the course material, "a model organism is a species that has been widely studied usually because it is easy to maintain and breed in a laboratory setting and has particular experimental advantages." This means that the creature is cheap, simple to use, and no one feels too bad about poking sea urchins with needles. So bright and early tomorrow I am off to fertilize sea urchin eggs and watch them grow. At each stage we will be taking photomicrographs (pictures taken of the images seen in a microscope). I will be using special stains that show different parts of the cells, which is a thrill because normally I only get to use ink or food coloring. It's nice to play in an adult lab.
Will post photos as the day progresses.