NeuroSeq and cell diversity in the nervous system

The central nervous system has the most cellular diversity of any organ in the body, but how does this diversity arise?

While the presumption is that genetic programs specify each neuron type, our understanding of these programs is in its infancy. To begin uncovering the underlying design principles of neuronal architecture in the brain, scientists from the Nelson Lab at Brandeis University and the HHMI Janelia Research Campus jointly formed the NeuroSeq project to profile genetic programs in a monumental number of neurons throughout the nervous system. Selected neurons were from transgenic animals to facilitate access among the scientific community for future functional studies. While single cell sequencing is the most popular method for transcriptome profiling, its technical limitations only provide a shallow view of molecular profiles. To go deeper, the NeuroSeq program assessed transcription in pools of nearly 200 genetically identified mouse cell types. NeuroSeq captured 80% of single gene copies and could even assess splice isoforms.

What did the NeuroSeq effort find?

Interestingly, two unique classes of genes lie at the heart of adult neuronal identity. Homeobox transcription factors and long genes explain a great deal of the neuronal diversity in the central nervous system. This extends the role of homeobox genes well beyond development and into neuronal identity maintenance. It also highlights long genes as an important class of neuronal identity effectors. Long genes are long due to insertion of foreign elements, and they come with costs, namely increased energy consumption and risk of mutations. These costs seem to be overcome by the benefits of neuronal diversification. We are excited to spotlight the NeuroSeq project in providing a unique resource for future discoveries concerning neuronal diversity and function.

The data resource is available at, and the findings are described in a recent paper in eLife. Brandeis-affiliated authors on the paper include Professor Sacha Nelson, former postdoc Ken Sugino PhD ’05 (now at HHMI Janelia), current postdoc Erin Clark, and former research scientist Yasuyuki Shima.

Genome illustration

Jeff Gelles elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Jeff Gelles, 2019 AAAS recipient

credit: Heratch Ekmekjian

Jeff Gelles, the Aron and Imre Tauber Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was among the  more than 200 outstanding individuals that were elected to the Academy in 2019 and announced on April 17.

The Gelles lab studies “little engines” or the nanometer-sized machines made of protein, RNA, and DNA molecules that carry out the essential processes in living cells.  The lab uses single-molecule light microscopy methods to study the functional mechanisms of these macromolecular complexes in cytoskeletal function, transcription and transcription regulation, and RNA processing.

Founded in 17890, the Academy recognizes the outstanding achievements of individuals in academia, the arts, business, government, and public affairs.

Read more:, BrandeisNow





John Wardle part of team that produces first-ever black hole image

Credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

John Wardle, Professor of Astrophysics and the Head of the Division of Science, has been playing an integral role in bringing the first-ever image of a black hole to realization. Announced today, the image of the M87 black hole is being hailed as a major scientific breakthrough. Wardle serves on four of the Event Horizon Telescope’s 23 working groups, helps analyze the polarization of the M87 black hole’s radio emissions, and serves on the publication working group. This announcement was made in a series of six papers published in a special issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Read more: BrandeisNow, Event Horizon Telescope, NSF News Release

Cepko to present Lisman Memorial Lecture April 9, 2019

Constance CepkoFor the 11th year, a top neuroscientist specializing in vision will present an awarded lecture to the Brandeis community. This year’s awardee is Dr. Connie Cepko of Harvard Medical School and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, an expert in retinal development and molecular tool design. Connie will present a lecture entitled “Development of the Vertebrate Retina and Nanobodies as Regulators of Intracellular Activities” at 12:30pm in Gerstenzang 121.

The Lisman Memorial Lecture honors the memory of John E. Lisman (’66), who was a faculty member in Biology from 1973 until his death in 2017. The award is endowed through the generous contribution of Brandeis alumni Jay Pepose ’75, MA’75, P’08, P’17, and his wife, Susan K. Feigenbaum ’74, P’08, P’17. (

Brandeis grad is the first woman to receive the Abel Prize in Mathematics

Karen Uhlenbeck giving a talk

Credit: Andrea Kane

By Ruth Charney, Theodore and Evelyn Berenson Professor of Mathematics

We are thrilled to announce that Karen Uhlenbeck has won the 2019 Abel Prize in Mathematics.  Uhlenbeck received her PhD from Brandeis in 1968 and was awarded an honorary degree by Brandeis in 2008.  The Abel prize, which is given out by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, is one of the most prestigious awards in mathematics and has never before been awarded to a woman. The prize recognizes Uhlenbeck “for her pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory and integrable systems, and for the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics.”  Hans Munthe-Kaas, Chair of the Abel Committee, notes that “Her theories have revolutionized our understanding of minimal surfaces, such as those formed by soap bubbles, and more general minimization problems in higher dimensions.”  She has also been a strong advocate for women in mathematics.,

GreenLabs Recycling: An Innovative Answer to Lab Waste

GreenLabs Recycling

Several years ago, Brenda Lemos and David Waterman, at the time Brandeis graduate students working in Jim Haber’s lab, noticed that clean, polypropylene (#5 plastic) pipette tip boxes were being thrown away. Although never contaminated in the lab, these boxes are typically labeled “medical waste” and blocked from recycling, ultimately ending up in landfills. This is a problem given that 10 million pipette boxes are purchased each year and most often can’t be reloaded and reused. The boxes end up becoming part of the 6 million tons of plastic waste that are produced by 20,500 research institutions world-wide.

That is when the now Dr. Waterman and the future Dr. Lemos, created the GreenLabs Recycling program. Rather than the pipette boxes being disposed of in a landfill, they are now being diverted into recycling at the point of use by the people who are using them.

Pipette box binThe system works this way: GreenLabs Recycling places recycling bins at participating labs. Scientists in the labs place the pipette boxes into the recycling bins as they are used. “Participation in this program has been great. Other scientists understand the importance of recycling these materials,” David said.  Brenda and David collect the bins and bring the materials back to a facility in Acton. There the boxes are sorted by cleanliness, color and type of plastic. After sorting, the boxes are granulated and used at local manufacturers. They prefer to use Massachusetts-based manufacturers in order to reduce the environmental impact of shipping the materials.

They are currently collecting lab plastics at five locations – Brandeis, other universities, and small and large biotech companies in the area. They expect to be soon working with two additional locations.

What are the future plans for GreenLabs Recycling? David said that they would eventually like to take the recycled plastics and manufacture their own long-lasting, permanent products such as trash cans, recycling bins, and non-disposable office products.

David credits the Brandeis Innovations Sprout Program and Icorp™ Program for their support. “They have been a huge help”, he said.

GreenLabs will be participating in the Mass Innovation Nights event on Thursday, March 14. This event will be held from 6:00 to 8:00 PM at the Faculty Club and features new, innovative products from Brandeis students, alumni, and staff. This event is free and open to the public.

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