“Lessons from the Lobster” details Eve Marder’s research

Lessons from Lobster. Photo courtesy of MIT.By Eve Marder

Students often tell me that they don’t want to be scientists because it is too lonely. That always surprises me, because laboratories are filled with people. One of the conclusions that readers of Charlotte Nassim’s “Lessons from the Lobster” should take from the book is that laboratories are communities of scholars of all ages. Lifelong friendships are often formed and sustained as laboratory colleagues may spend as much time together as they do with other friends and family. When Charlotte approached me about writing the story of my research, I was very surprised because there are many eminent neuroscientists, including many other eminent female neuroscientists. What convinced me to work with Charlotte was her wish to reach teenage girls, before they decided that a career in science was not for them. And this decision was validated when a few days ago, one of the students (now working in a neighboring lab) whom I had taught in NBio 140, Principles of Neuroscience, told me that she loved the book, but wished she had had it when she was in high school. We agreed that after she finished the book, that she would donate it to her small home town library, in the hopes that it would encourage other high school students to consider becoming scientists.

Charlotte’s book is a piece of science history. She read our lab notebooks, and talked to many ex-lab members. Her choices of what to emphasize and how to frame the scientific issues speak as much about what she finds scientifically and sociologically interesting as it does about what I was thinking. By reading deeply, she relied not only on my flawed memory, but on what I and others had written. For me, it is an extraordinary reminder that even scientists who revere data have only partial recollections of their own intellectual paths.

Hongfu Liu Joins Computer Science as Assistant Professor

Dr. Hongfu Liu has joined the Michtom School of Computer Science at Brandeis University as a tenure-track assistant professor. He received his Ph.D. in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Northeastern University (NEU), supervised by Prof. Yun (Raymond) Fu within 3.5 years. Before joining NEU, he earned his master and bachelor degrees in management from the Beihang University with Prof. Junjie Wu. He also received two minor bachelor degrees in applied mathematics and laws.

His current research interests lie in data mining, machine learning  and related applications on business intelligence, computer vision and bioinformatics. He has published several papers in top conferences and journals, such as KDD, ICDM, SDM, AAAI, IJCAI, T-PAMI, T-KDE, T-IP, DMKD, BMC and so on. He is also the reviewer for several top conferences and journals. He has been nominated as KDD Top 20 rising star all over the world in 2016.

Paradis and Van Hooser labs collaborate on eLife paper

Figure 3 from research paper

Figure 3. Rem2 is required for late-phase critical period ocular dominance plasticity.

“Rem2 stabilizes intrinsic excitability and spontaneous firing in visual circuits.” Anna R Moore, Sarah E Richards, Katelyn Kenny, Leandro Royer, Urann Chan, Kelly Flavahan, Stephen D Van Hooser, Suzanne Paradis. eLife 2018;7:e33092.

Throughout our waking hours, we experience an ever-changing stream of input from our senses. The brain responds to this varying input by adjusting its own activity levels and even its own structure. It does this by changing the strength of the connections between neurons, or the properties of the neurons themselves. Known as plasticity, this process of continuous change enables the brain to develop, learn and to recover from injury.

The visual systems of mammals are particularly well suited to studying how sensory experience alters the brain. Studies in animals show that lack of sensory input to one or both eyes during a critical period in development causes long-lasting changes in the brain’s visual circuits. Similarly, children with the condition amblyopia or ‘lazy eye’ – in which one eye has impaired vision and the brain ignores input from that eye – can end up with permanent deficits in their vision if the condition is not treated during childhood. Changes in sensory input are thought to trigger plasticity in the brain by altering the activity of specific genes. But exactly how this process works is unclear.

Anna Moore, Sarah Richards et al. now show that a gene called Rem2 has an important role in regulating visual plasticity. In the key experiments, young mice had their vision in one eye blocked for a few days. Analysis of their brains showed that mice that had been genetically modified to lack the Rem2 gene responded differently to this change in their environment (i.e. the loss of input to one eye) than their normal counterparts. Further experiments suggest that Rem2 regulates the excitability of individual neurons: that is, how much the neurons respond to any given input. In the absence of Rem2, neurons in visual areas of the brain become hyperactive. This prevents them from adjusting their activity levels in response to changes in sensory input, which in turn leads to impaired plasticity.

Being able to harness the brain’s visual plasticity mechanisms on demand, for example by regulating Rem2 activity, could benefit individuals with disorders such as amblyopia. Rem2 is also active in many other parts of the brain besides those that support vision. This suggests that manipulating this gene could affect numerous forms of plasticity. However, various barriers must be overcome before we could use this approach to treat brain disorders. These include obtaining a more in depth understanding of the role of the Rem2 gene in the human brain.

Science Posse Scholars Present Posters July 9 at SSC Atrium

Student at Science Posse Session

On July 9th, incoming Science Posse Scholars will be presenting posters on various research topics including pheromones, computational models of galaxies, and software engineering.  The event will take place in the Shapiro Science Center atrium from 1:30 to 3:00 PM. The 10 scholars are interested in pursuing STEM degrees and will all start here at Brandeis in the fall.

Everyone is encouraged to attend.

Melissa Kosinski-Collins Promoted to Professor of Biology

Melissa Kosinski-CollinsMelissa Kosinski-Collins was recently promoted to Professor of Biology. Melissa joined the Biology faculty in 2006 as an Assistant Professor (outside the tenure structure).

Using her passion for teaching, she has updated the undergraduate laboratory curriculum to a system of project-based experiments.  Currently, she is teaching the introductory biology lab course, plant biology, and a graduate level structural biology course.  Melissa is the academic director of the Science Posse and Galaxy Project.

Science Communication Lab Completes 1st Academic Year

Whether it’s preparing a “pizza talk,” or writing a grant, fellowship or senior thesis – all of those activities can be stress-inducing.  The Science Communication Lab (CommLab) at Brandeis was created to help undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, laboratory-staff and faculty with the skills they need to effectively communicate their work through a variety of media.

Since its inception in November 2017, the six Graduate Fellows from the CommLab have conducted nearly 150 appointments (39% appointments with undergraduates; 52% with graduate students). Most appointments provided assistance in preparing for the graduate qualifying exam (18%); oral presentations like “pizza talks” (18%) or writing applications for fellowships or scholarships (15%).

Participants are surveyed after each appointment. When asked how they would rate their experience at the CommLab, participants rated it 5.95 out of a possible 6.00.

Some of the feedback includes:

“This is such a good resource!!! Many graduate students have come to accept that this process hard, but there are some parts of a graduate degree that don’t have to be. CommLab people are super helpful, welcoming, and effective at making grad school just a bit easier.”

Interested in making an appointment? There are three ways to schedule a meeting. The CommLab is located in Bassine 122.

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