November 28, 2014

Workshop at MBL Explores Past, Present, and Future of Cell Biology


Edmond V. Cowdry, author of General Cytology (1924), when cell biology was an emerging field.

A recent workshop at the MBL exploring the past, present, and future of cell biology attracted nearly 40 leading biologists, historians, philosophers, and graduate students. The workshop, “Updating Cowdry at the MBL,” was organized by Karl Matlin of the University of Chicago and Jane Maienschein of the MBL and Arizona State University through a collaborative grant stemming from the UChicago-MBL affiliation. It was the first event in an ongoing project that will lead to publication of a book on the topic.

The point of departure for the workshop was a gathering of biologists at the MBL more than 90 years ago led by cytologist Edmund V. Cowdry. Cowdry convened this group of scientists, all of whom conducted research at the MBL, with the intention of producing a volume that would examine “the cell fundamental,” recognizing that such a book could no longer be produced by a single individual and instead required contributions from multiple perspectives and fields. In 1924, General Cytology, the product of Cowdry’s efforts, was published by The University of Chicago Press.

As these biologists, including Cowdry, Edmund Beecher Wilson, Frank Lillie, Thomas Hunt Morgan, and the other authors acknowledged, cell biology in 1924 was only in its infancy. Cytologists sought to find ways to describe details inside cells, including sorting out which features are important, and physicochemical and physiological processes remained relatively mysterious. In many ways, despite the growing number of researchers studying cells and a recognized need to understand the most fundamental cellular structures and processes, the cell remained a frontier for exploration.

In the subsequent decades, cell biology has developed far beyond what Cowdry could have imagined. New technologies, such as electron microscopy and cell fractionation, enabled cell biology to become a molecular science, while new disciplines, including molecular genetics and systems biology, have expanded the scope of possibilities. More recently, the ability to examine molecular events in living cells using fluorescent probes, and the capability to model these events using computers make it possible to extend the age-old search for mechanisms in biology into the realm of emergent structures and functions dictated by dynamic properties.

All of these topics were represented at the October 23-24 workshop, with historians framing the past, cell biologists describing the present, and philosophers analyzing the evolution of epistemic strategies accompanying the maturation of cell biology into a 21st-century science.

The next steps in the project include a moderated discussion of ideas emanating from the workshop with the goal of identifying new frontiers and paths of exploration. This will result in a list of topics for deeper exploration at a second workshop to be held at the MBL in October 2015, and leading to the anticipated book.


MBL Announces First Recipients of MBL-UChicago/Argonne Collaboration Award

 The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) has announced the first recipients of the MBL-UChicago/Argonne Collaboration Awards.

These awards support innovative scientific collaborations among faculty at the MBL and UChicago/Argonne, in service of laying the foundation for long-term interactions between the institutions. Teams of at least one UChicago/Argonne and one MBL resident scientist are eligible to receive the awards. The following projects were awarded:

“High-Resolution Microbiome Informatics”— A. Murat Eren, Bay Paul Center, MBL, and collaborator Jack Gilbert, Department of Ecology & Evolution, University of Chicago, will work with co-investigators Jessica Mark Welch and Mitchell Sogin of the Bay Paul Center; Andrew Chien, Department of Computer Science, University of Chicago; and Eugene Chang, Department of Medicine, University of Chicago.

“Cytoskeletal Adaptation During Suspended Animation”Shalin Mehta, Cellular Dynamics Program, MBL and collaborator Patrick La Rivière, Department of Radiology, University of Chicago, will work with co-investigators Hari Shroff, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, and Jonathan Gitlin, Bell Center, MBL.

“Developing a Pan-Arctic Ecosystem Respiration Model”Edward Rastetter, Ecosystems Center, MBL, and collaborator Julie Jastrow, Biosciences Division, Argonne National Laboratory, will work with co-investigator Susan Natali, Woods Hole Research Center.

A second round of awards will be announced in December 2014.

University of Chicago Graduate Student Research Awardees Discover the MBL

By Laurel Hamers and Diana Kenney

Six University of Chicago graduate students are discovering the MBL this summer or fall as inaugural recipients of University of Chicago Graduate Student Research Awards, an ongoing program arising from the MBL-UChicago affiliation.

The students’ doctoral research topics at UChicago are diverse, ranging from evolutionary development to cell migration to indoor microbial communities. At the MBL, they have the opportunity to enhance their research programs by enrolling in a summer course and/or undertaking research with an MBL mentor.

“I am guessing at least one of you will have a transformative experience at the MBL, and will come back here for the rest of your life,” said Jonathan Gitlin, MBL’s deputy director of Research and Programs, at a breakfast honoring the 2014 MBL Research Awardees, including the UChicago graduate students. [Read more...]

Donation from Millicent and Eugene Bell Foundation Supports New UChicago Professorship in Tissue Engineering with Appointment in MBL’s Bell Center

By Jeremy Manier, University of Chicago

The University of Chicago is creating a new professorship in tissue engineering to promote innovative work at the University’s Institute for Molecular Engineering and the Marine Biological Laboratory, supported by a $3.5 million donation from the Millicent and Eugene Bell Foundation.

The starlet sea anemone (Nematostella) is an emerging model organism for the study of regeneration. Credit: Adam Reitzel, courtesy of John R. Finnerty

The starlet sea anemone (Nematostella) is an emerging model organism for the study of regeneration. Credit: Adam Reitzel, courtesy of John R. Finnerty

The Eugene Bell Professorship in Tissue Engineering will reside within the Institute for Molecular Engineering. That endowed chair holder also will direct a research project at the MBL’s Eugene Bell Center for Regenerative Biology and Tissue Engineering, and will have an appointment at the Bell Center. The MBL and UChicago formed an affiliation in 2013 to advance biological research and education at both institutions.

Tissue engineering and regenerative biology have the potential to produce breakthroughs in healing damaged body parts or even growing new organs. They are inherently multidisciplinary fields, drawing from new technology in materials science and fabrication as well as basic research in fields such as genetics and cell biology.

“The emerging collaborations between scientists at the University and the MBL are well suited to address the scientific challenges of tissue engineering,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “Many innovations in medical treatments depend on robust links of basic research and new technology. We are grateful for the generous support of the Millicent and Eugene Bell Foundation, which will allow our scholars to do pioneering work in the rapidly changing field of tissue engineering.”

The new professorship will foster scholarship on tissue engineering at the MBL and the Institute for Molecular Engineering, where scientists are focused on exploring innovative technology at the molecular scale, with the potential for societal impact in areas including health care, computing, energy and the environment.

“We have a very unusual chance with our colleagues at the MBL to bring together different scientific perspectives and specialties in search of breakthrough discoveries that could have profound impacts for patients,” said Matt Tirrell, the founding Pritzker Director of the Institute for Molecular Engineering.

For more than a century, scientists at the MBL in Woods Hole, Mass. have studied how certain marine species are able to regenerate damaged tissue. The MBL’s Bell Center includes a national resource for research on the frog called Xenopus, which has unique regenerative abilities and is a major animal model for biomedical research.

“This extraordinary gift from the Millicent and Eugene Bell Foundation continues the Bell family’s generous support of the Marine Biological Laboratory by providing a transformative research opportunity in our affiliation with the University of Chicago,” said MBL President and Director Joan Ruderman.

Millicent Bell, a trustee of the Marine Biological Laboratory since 2009, made the gift through the Bell Foundation in memory of her late husband, Dr. Eugene Bell, a longtime member of the MBL scientific community. While a professor at MIT from 1956 to 1986, Eugene Bell founded the field of tissue engineering through efforts to generate replacement tissue for treating severe burns and other injuries. After retiring from MIT, Eugene Bell founded two companies: Organogenesis Inc., to produce replacement skin, and TEI Biosciences, which used expertise in regenerative medicine to develop new biologic products for various soft tissue repair applications.

“Gene would have been delighted to see how beautifully his hopes for a grand future for tissue engineering are going forward, and I am overjoyed to be able to continue to help in the effort,” Millicent Bell said. “I am looking forward to the prospect of advanced research and of its medical application that will result—and am extremely pleased to see Gene’s humane dreams realized.”

Millicent Bell is a retired professor of English at Boston University and the author of numerous books, including Edith Wharton and Henry James: The Story of their Friendship and Marquand: An American Life. She is the recipient of many honors, including a Howard Foundation fellowship, the Shell Award, a Guggenheim fellowship and the Winship Prize for biography. Her longtime support of the MBL includes gifts totaling $8 million to help establish the Bell Center in 2010.

Second Scientific Retreat Moves MBL, University of Chicago Toward “A New Era in Discovery”

Attendees gather on the steps of the MBL’s Lillie Building during the MBL-University of Chicago Second Scientific Retreat, May 3, 2014. Photo by Tom Kleindinst

By Diana Kenney

Keeping up the momentum after their first retreat in Chicago in February, faculty and scientists from the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL)’s year-round and visiting scientist communities, the University of Chicago, and Argonne National Laboratory convened for a second retreat at the MBL in May. The MBL, located in Woods Hole, Mass., and the University of Chicago affiliated last year.

-View the Retreat Program-

-View the Retreat Slideshow-

Through wide-ranging, lively discussions about the big research questions the affiliation is uniquely positioned to address, the 190 retreat participants emerged with several key scientific themes for the University and the MBL to explore.

“There are two parts to an affiliation like ours: vision and strategy,” said Karl Matlin, professor in UChicago’s Surgery Department and co-chairman of the retreat committee, which was comprised of University and MBL scientists. “In designing this retreat, our goal was to put both the vision and the strategy in your hands,” Matlin said to the gathering in MBL’s Lillie Auditorium.

“This was scientists getting together, discussing what they want the MBL-UChicago affiliation to become,” said Joel Smith, MBL’s associate director of education and co-chair of the retreat. “There was a palpable sense the affiliation offers unique opportunities for world-leading science; goals the individual institutions could not achieve on their own.”

Shaping a Vision

The retreat kicked off with the attendees discussing, in randomly assigned breakout groups, “Which important scientific questions are the affiliates best positioned to address at a world-class level?” These stimulating, cross-disciplinary conversations generated a list of 35 compelling scientific questions, which the attendees evaluated later in the day. It eventually became apparent that the scientific questions could sort under a few broadly defined categories: Imaging; Computational Biology; Organisms; and Seed/Collaborations, the latter being a cross-cutting request for more opportunities for MBL and UChicago scientists to interact through mechanisms such as seed grants for early research.

“This was an inclusive process in which everyone present had a voice, including a large number of MBL summer investigators,” said neurobiologist Steve Zottoli, an MBL adjunct senior scientist from Williams College and a member of the retreat committee. “Of the four emerging categories, everybody had a stake in one of them, or part of one. It was remarkable how the participants arrived at what they thought were the strengths of the MBL, the strengths UChicago brings, and what could be the best first steps.”

The “Imaging” category, for example, embraces imaging life across multiple scales, from atomic to ecosystems, and pulls in scientists from many disciplines, including biologists, physicists, computer scientists, and environmental scientists. The “Computational Biology” category is also inclusive, with research ideas ranging from gene regulatory networks in developmental and cancer biology, to neural networks, to microbiomes in human and animal health, to global biogeochemistry networks. While the “Organism” category focuses on marine animals, it includes other model organisms, such as Xenopus and zebrafish, as well as marine microbial communities.

“We are moving our mindset from a two-institution view to a more unified one, which is the most important thing,” said Jonathan Gitlin, MBL’s Deputy Director for Research and Programs. “It’s the intellectual capital that really drives this affiliation. We have the opportunity to ask, ‘What incredible scientific questions can the MBL and UChicago get traction on, that nobody else can?’ Answering that takes thinking like one institution.”

“It’s important to realize that this retreat was a very positive starting point; not a fait accompli,” Zottoli said. “We will continue discussing [the scientific goals of the affiliation] all summer long in the MBL’s Whitman Center for Visiting Research, where I am on the planning committee.” To further engage MBL course faculty and visiting researchers, another retreat is planned for summer 2015 at the MBL.

Second MBL-University of Chicago Retreat Slideshow
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From Vision to Strategy

On the second morning of the retreat, breakout groups met to identify the critical first steps needed to move forward in these emerging scientific areas. “This is the strategy part of the affiliation,” Matlin said.

Those strategic recommendations will be considered by the MBL and University of Chicago faculty advisory committees, which are responsible for fostering and developing the affiliation through collaborative research and educational initiatives. The UChicago faculty advisory committee is led by Neil Shubin, the Robert R. Bensley Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy and Senior Advisor to the President and Vice President for Research and National Laboratories at the University of Chicago.

“There is a clear need for focused conferences on imaging, computation, marine resources, and other scientific priorities, with white papers as output. These will begin in fall 2014,” Shubin said as the retreat drew to a close. The MBL and UChicago faculty advisory committees will also start examining the scientific infrastructure at the institutions, he said. “What do we have, and what do we need to move forward in our collaborations?”

Welcome to the MBL

The second retreat also served as a welcoming orientation for many UChicago and Argonne faculty who had never visited the MBL before. Tours of the Loeb teaching labs, the National Xenopus Resource, the visiting scientists’ labs in Rowe, and the Marine Resources Center were offered, and a poster session and mixer launched the retreat on Friday night.

“These kind of visits leave people energized and transformed, when they see the resources that the affiliation brings to the table. Both Neil Shubin and I want to encourage more of them,” Gitlin said. To that end, the University of Chicago has set up an MBL-UChicago Connection Fund that enables visits between the campuses for students, scientists and staff, as well as joint workshops.

“Enormous Potential”

En route to achieving broad consensus on scientific themes that the affiliates could address, the retreat yielded an abundance of stimulating ideas for scientific exchange. Ideas flowed both from the breakout group discussions and from scientific talks (see retreat program).

For example, “how to deal with questions of scale across the sciences” emerged as an important question that the affiliates could effectively investigate, said MBL President and Director Joan Ruderman. “We have an opportunity to look in a large way from genomes to global cycles,” she said. “Also, we are also are just starting to explore marine diversity, from the microbes that are estimated to be more numerous than stars in the universe, to marine organisms that may serve as good models for biomedical discovery,” she said. “There is enormous room for discovery here, and opportunities for translation into improved public health and for stewardship of the Earth for all future life.”

Science Teachers from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools Visit the MBL

By Diana Kenney

Three science teachers and a principal from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools spent Friday, May 16 on the MBL campus, where they explored various ways in which their middle- and high-school students could engage with the MBL.

Photo caption: Teachers from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools visited the MBL last week. From left: Daniel Calleri, Science Department faculty and biology instructor; Bill Reznikoff, MBL Director of Education; Michael Wong, science teacher; Scott Fech, principal, University High School; Sharon Housinger, science teacher, and Joel Smith, MBL Associate Director of Education. Credit: Jonathan Gitlin

Photo caption: Teachers from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools visited the MBL last week. From left: Daniel Calleri, Science Department faculty and biology instructor; MBL Director of Education Bill Reznikoff; Michael Wong, science teacher; Scott Fech, principal, University High School; Sharon Housinger, science teacher; and Joel Smith, MBL Associate Director of Education. Credit: Jonathan Gitlin

“We are meeting with MBL scientists and staff, and I am becoming incredibly jealous of the awesome things happening here! I’ve already had 1,000 ideas from these conversations,” said Daniel Calleri, a biology instructor in the Laboratory Schools’ high school.

The private Laboratory Schools include five schools, ranging from nursery to high school, located on the University of Chicago campus. Children of UChicago faculty and staff comprise about 60 percent of the schools’ 1,850 students, while the rest come from Illinois and beyond. Founded by education reformer and philosopher John Dewey in 1896, the Laboratory Schools’ mission values including “learning experientially, exhibiting kindness, and honoring diversity.”

“We have a learning by doing philosophy,” said Scott Fech, principal of the high school (known as University High School or U-High). “We look for ways to make a tangible connection between what the students learn in class, and what is happening out in the world,” added Michael Wong, a middle-school science teacher.

The teachers saw the marine organisms in the MBL’s Marine Resources Center and the frogs in its National Xenopus Resource, and met with MBL scientists working in a variety of fields, including cell, developmental, and regenerative biology, neuroscience, and environmental science.

“What is going on here? Everything! The sky is the limit,” said high-school science teacher Sharon Housinger.

Among other possible interactions, the group explored ways to engage the students in a research question during a visit to Woods Hole, which they could continue to pursue in Chicago. For example, Wong suggested, the students could set up two shoreline webcams, one on Lake Michigan and one on Cape Cod, and collect the data on the web to compare freshwater and ocean ecology. “This is the way education is going: We are interested in forming partnerships with other schools and institutes, and continuing to share on the web after the initial engagement,” Fech said.

“The MBL doesn’t yet have program for middle- and high-schoolers,” said MBL Associate Director of Education Joel Smith. “We see this opportunity with the Laboratory Schools as an excellent way to start, to begin building a flagship program that excites kids about science for the rest of their lives.”

New Internships Allow Eight UChicago Undergrads to Spend Summer at Marine Biological Laboratory

Dianna Douglas, University of Chicago


ight UChicago undergraduates will spend their summer at the MBL as research interns through the Metcalf program.

Eight UChicago undergraduates will spend their summer at the MBL as research interns through the Metcalf program.

Eight students in the College will spend their summer as research interns at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts, marking a new phase in the affiliation between the lab and the University of Chicago that will allow students to pursue significant scientific projects.

“The student interns will make invaluable contributions this summer, while gaining important contacts and resources to navigate the complex process of finding a career path,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “The Marine Biological Laboratory internships are an example of the faculty and laboratory collaborations that can help our students succeed in many careers.”

Funding for the internship comes through a partnership between the MBL and the College, and the interns will be part of UChicago’s Metcalf internship program in Career Advancement. Each student will live in or near the MBL campus in Woods Hole, Mass., a village on Cape Cod that attracts world-renowned scientists for intense, transformative research and advanced courses in a range of biological subjects. The MBL’s summer courses are famous for creating a distinctive environment of collaboration among instructors and students, often working with the latest technology to address research questions.

“It is a fantastic opportunity. We’re going to have a lot of exposure to the scientists, and will understand more things that are happening in the field,” said Medha Biswas, a second-year biology student, who will be part of the first group of interns. She visited the MBL during a Career Advancement trek over spring break.

This summer she will work on live imaging of synaptic proteins in the laboratory of William Green, professor of neuroscience at UChicago and a visiting fellow at the MBL.

While the MBL has hosted many scholars from UChicago during its summer programs, this is the first time that a formal internship program will bring a group of students to Woods Hole.

“Scientific discovery moves forward when bright, young, curious minds are given the opportunity to explore without limits. These outstanding undergraduates are the perfect connection of real intellectual capital between our two great institutions and I have every anticipation of extraordinary accomplishments,” said Jonathan Gitlin, deputy director for research and programs at MBL.

Biswas said she is excited by the opportunity for these inaugural interns to show what UChicago students are capable of contributing at the MBL. The other interns—Rachel Folz, Shaunae Alex, Clara Kao, Lyda Harris, Para Mehta, Caroline Owens and Andrea Rummel—will work on projects as varied as suspended animation in zebrafish and the sedimentary layers of the salt marsh ecosystem.

Each of the student interns identified a faculty member at the MBL whose area of study intersected with their own work. They wrote proposals to the faculty members, explaining a research project that they hoped to pursue in collaboration with the laboratory scientists.

“We look forward to the energy and scholarship that the Chicago students will bring to our summer programs, and to seeing the results of the research and discoveries that will come out of their work,” said Joel Smith, a biologist at the MBL who has worked closely on bringing the UChicago interns to the lab this summer. The MBL’s renowned summer programs attract more than 1,700 scientists and advanced students from around the world.

The MBL interns will be part of the College’s largest group of Metcalf interns. More than 1,000 undergraduates will travel around the world through UChicago’s paid internship program to gain on-the-job skills and explore career opportunities this year.

UChicago and MBL Announce First Recipients of Lillie Awards for Collaborative Research

Contact: Gina Hebert

Erik M. Jorgensen and Clare Waterman are the first two recipients of the Frank R. Lillie Research Innovation Awards. The awards will provide funding for scientists to develop novel, collaborative projects based at the MBL that will lead to transformative biological discoveries.

Erik M. Jorgensen and Clare Waterman are the first two recipients of the Frank R. Lillie Research Innovation Awards. The awards will provide funding for scientists to develop novel, collaborative projects based at the MBL that will lead to transformative biological discoveries.Waterman photo, credit: Tom Kleindinst/MBL

MBL, WOODS HOLE, MA—The University of Chicago and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) today announced the first two recipients of the Frank R. Lillie Research Innovation Awards.

The newly established grant program honors Lillie, the early 20th-century embryologist who served as the MBL’s second director and as chair of UChicago’s Department of Zoology, and represents the first formal research opportunity between the University and the MBL since their affiliation in 2013. The awards will provide funding for scientists to develop novel, collaborative projects based at the MBL that will lead to transformative biological discoveries. Scientists throughout the MBL’s worldwide research community were eligible to receive the awards.

One grant was awarded to University of Utah neuroscientist Erik M. Jorgensen and his colleagues, who will address the fundamental question of how high-level brain processes such as memory are related to changes in the structure and function of neural connections.

Another grant was awarded to Clare Waterman of the National Institutes of Health. Waterman and a multidisciplinary team of cell biologists and experts in advanced microscopy will investigate basic molecular mechanisms of cellular movement, shape, and form, which are critical to understanding human disorders like cancer.

“This is innovative research by scientists who are leading their fields,” said Joan Ruderman, MBL President and Director. “They are asking bold questions that have the potential to change the way we understand fundamental biological processes. Frank Lillie was a visionary and these awards are visionary on the part of the University of Chicago and the MBL. The science has the potential to transform the understanding of basic biology and human health.”

“The collaborative advances that will emerge from these awards show the immense potential of the affiliation between the MBL and the University of Chicago,” said Neil Shubin, the Robert R. Bensley Professor in Organismal Biology and Anatomy at UChicago and senior advisor to the President and to the Vice President for Research and for National Laboratories. “These projects will bring together scientists who might not have interacted otherwise, with powerful benefits for our community of researchers and educators.”

Jorgensen and his colleagues from the University of Utah and Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, one of the largest university hospitals in Europe, will use novel electron microscopy imaging techniques to investigate the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying synaptic plasticity, a fundamental property of the nervous system. Synaptic plasticity describes the changes to structure and function that occur where nerve cells connect in the brain and is thought to underlie learning and memory. Abnormal synaptic plasticity is linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“One of the great remaining mysteries in neuroscience surrounds the issues in the brain that make us uniquely human—how we think, sleep, learn, and remember things,” said Jonathan Gitlin, MBL’s Deputy Director for Research and Programs. “Memory is one of the most vibrant and important functions in the human brain, yet we don’t know how it works at a fundamental level. How can we approach diseases of memory? This is the frontier, and the new project brings forward cell biology and imaging, which are areas of incredible focus for our partnership with UChicago.”

Waterman’s research team includes scientists from the NIH, Harvard Medical School, the National Center for Biological Sciences in India, and investigators from the MBL’s Cellular Dynamics Program. They will use new technologies in polarization microscopy developed by MBL scientists to study molecules important to cell structure, movement, and form. Cell migration is critical for wound healing, immune response, and development.

“In human disorders like cancer, you want to inhibit cell movement, while in infection, you want to move it along,” says Gitlin. “The fundamental aspects of knowing how cells take shape and move are critical to understanding the cell biological basis of human health and disease.”

Several of Jorgensen’s and Waterman’s team members have long histories with the MBL, having served as faculty members in MBL courses and as visiting investigators. In addition, both projects were seeded at the MBL in previous summers. Jorgensen and fellow team member, Shigeki Watanabe spent three summers at the MBL developing the imaging techniques featured in their project. Waterman initiated her project with colleague Satyajit Mayor as part of an MBL Physiology course in 2012 while she was serving as course director and he as an instructor. Two other team members obtained preliminary data for the project while participating as students in the course.

The Lillie Awards will support two years of research for a total of $125,000 per award. Jorgensen and Waterman and their teams will initiate their projects this summer. A complete list of research teams and their affiliations is listed below.

“Ultrafast endocytosis of AMPA receptors during long-term synaptic depression”
Principal Investigator:
Erik M. Jorgensen, Professor, University of Utah; HHMI Investigator; MBL Neurobiology course faculty (2004-2008); MBL Visiting Investigator, (2008-2010)

Christian Rosenmund, Professor, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin; MBL Neurobiology course faculty (2008)
Shigeki Watanabe, Post-doctoral fellow, University of Utah; MBL Visiting Investigator (2008-2010)
Benjamin R. Rost, Post-doctoral fellow, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin


“Integrin activation and organization by actin dynamics during cell migration”
Principal Investigator:
Clare Waterman, NIH Distinguished Investigator, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health; MBL Physiology course student (1993); Physiology course instructor (2003-2007); Physiology course director (2008-2013)

Timothy Springer, Latham Family Professor, Harvard Medical School
Satyajit Mayor, Dean and professor, National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India; MBL Physiology course instructor (2012-2013)
Tomomi Tani, Associate Scientist, Cellular Dynamics Program, MBL
Rudolf Oldenbourg, Director, Cellular Dynamics Program, Senior Scientist, MBL
Vinay Swaminathan, Post-doctoral fellow, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health; MBL Physiology course student (2012); MBL Physiology course teaching assistant (2013)
Pontus Nordenfelt, Post-doctoral fellow, Harvard Medical School; MBL Physiology course student (2012); MBL Physiology course teaching assistant (2013)
Joseph K. Mathew, Graduate student, National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India; MBL Physiology course teaching assistant (2013)
Shalin Mehta, Post-doctoral fellow, Cellular Dynamics Program, MBL


The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery and improving the human condition through research and education in biology, biomedicine, and environmental science. Founded in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, in 1888, the MBL is a private, nonprofit institution and an affiliate of the University of Chicago.

First MBL-UChicago Retreat Explores New Ideas for Joint Research and Programs

Attendees pose for a group shot during the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL)-University of Chicago Retreat at the Biological Sciences Learning Center on the UChicago campus on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 in Chicago.  (Photo by Joel Wintermantle)

Attendees pose for a group shot during the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL)-University of Chicago Retreat at the Biological Sciences Learning Center on the UChicago campus on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 in Chicago. (Photo by Joel Wintermantle)

By Diana Kenney

An energized group of 240 scientists, faculty members and students from the Marine Biological Laboratory and the University of Chicago, including the Argonne National Laboratory, came together at the University campus in Chicago recently to explore a broad range of ideas for joint scientific research and educational programming.

The MBL-UChicago Retreat on February 8-10 was the largest joint scientific meeting since the two institutions launched their formal affiliation in July 2013. It sparked excitement and animated discussions among researchers who got to know their colleagues through panel sessions, “lightning talks,” roundtables, chats during breaks, and spontaneous side meetings.

View a slideshow
of the retreat here
Download a pdf of the retreat program here

“There is so much energy around the affiliation, and intellectual vigor to make it work. It’s wonderful to see the exchange of ideas and exuberance emerge,” said Neil Shubin, Robert R. Bensley Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy and Senior Advisor to the President and Vice President for Research and National Laboratories at the University of Chicago.

Shubin leads a faculty advisory committee that is charged with fostering scientific collaboration between the two institutions and developing the affiliation through research and education initiatives such as workshops, courses, student fellowships, program seed funding, joint appointments, or shared facilities.

The MBL-University of Chicago Faculty Advisory Committee

Neil Shubin (Chair), Organismal Biology and Anatomy

Joy M. Bergelson, Ecology and Evolution

Juan de Pablo, Institute for Molecular Engineering

Richard Fehon, Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology

Jack Gilbert, Argonne National Laboratory

Conrad Gilliam, Human Genetics and Dean, Biological Sciences Division Research

Jonathan Gitlin, MBL Deputy Director for Research and Programs

William N. Green, Neurobiology

Melina Hale, Organismal Biology and Anatomy

David Jablonski, Geophysical Sciences

Victoria Prince, Organismal Biology and Anatomy

Joan Ruderman, MBL President and Director

Rick Stevens, Argonne National Laboratory

Brian Clark (Staff), Associate Director for Operations and Planning, Office of the Executive Vice President

Rénu Kulkarni (Staff), AVP for Strategic Initiatives and Affiliation Operational Lead

The retreat was one step in an ongoing process of discussion and engagement that will result in creating meaningful programs that capitalize on the affiliates’  complementary strengths, and have lasting value for their student and research communities, Shubin said. A second retreat will be held on the MBL’s campus in Woods Hole, Mass., on May 3-4.

Participants said the retreat delivered on the promise of bringing researchers at MBL and UChicago closer together. “The spirit of collaboration is here,” said Zhe-Xi Luo, a professor of organismal biology and anatomy at UChicago.

“Where we go from today is up to all of you,” said Jonathan Gitlin, Deputy Director for Research and Programs at the MBL, to the many students and post-docs at the retreat. “I urge you to take this opportunity— with a brilliant University with limitless intellectual capital and an extraordinary place of discovery like the MBL—and become part of our conversation, drive us forward, change the world.”

The first morning’s program was designed to better familiarize the affiliation partners with each other. MBL President and Director Joan Ruderman gave an overview of the MBL and its three intersecting parts: advanced summer courses; resident research in biological and environmental sciences; and visiting research conducted by investigators from a host of universities and institutions worldwide.

“The MBL is one of the few places in the world that provides lab space, housing, and other support to a large number of researchers from different universities, to catalyze and enhance scientific collaboration,” Ruderman said.  She outlined ways in which students and scientists from the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory can take advantage of new and existing opportunities at MBL.

Shared research values

John W. Boyer, Dean of the College at UChicago, described the historical development of the culture of learning at the University, distinguished by its rigorous core undergraduate program, dual faculty appointments between the divisions and the College, a tradition of strong interdisciplinary cooperation among departments, and a flexible quarter system to allow time for creative and investigative sabbaticals.

“MBL seems to have a culture of risk taking: if something doesn’t work, try something else. Chicago faculty are also like that,” Boyer said. “They are empowered to follow their noses in research.” The institutions also share core values of interdisciplinary research and collaboration, he said.

The ingredients that power the MBL’s renowned research-immersion courses were the topic of talks by former Physiology course co-director Ron Vale of HHMI/University of California, San Francisco, and MBL Director of Education Bill Reznikoff.

“We create an intense, collaborative, interdisciplinary environment in the courses centered around solving real research problems,” Vale said. While publications are not an emphasis or goal of the courses, students often continue to collaborate with faculty on projects started in a course and eventually end up with a research publication, he said. “Many students are literally crying at the end of the summer because they have to leave this special environment that they and the faculty have created to explore the joy of doing science.”

Developing new avenues for growth

Participants discussed undergraduate research and diversity initiatives, and faculty members pitched creative ideas for new courses. Next, five-minute “lightning talks” on current research at the University and the MBL yielded fruitful questions and conversation.

In an effort to capture the growing flood of ideas in the room, Mark Westneat, professor of organismal biology and anatomy, encouraged everyone to submit their favorite idea on a Post-It note or via Twitter. These were sorted and posted at an “Idea Mutator” reception in the afternoon.

An illustrated talk on the rich history of collaboration between the MBL and UChicago was given at dinner by Jane Maienschein, the Regent’s, President’s, and Parents Association Professor at Arizona State University and adjunct senior scientist at the MBL.

The second day of the retreat was devoted to a deeper exploration of how the scientists at the two institutions can collaborate effectively. After a discussion of core shared-use facilities on each campus, the attendees chose thematic roundtables. Enthusiastic conversations began to crystallize as “big ideas” and potential projects, and participants passed on their ideas for consideration by the affiliation’s faculty advisory committee over the next few weeks.

“I have never been to a meeting that was so broad,” said Karl Matlin, professor of surgery at University of Chicago and a member of the retreat planning committee.  “We are only two institutions, but it seems like 1+1=1,000 when we come together. That is the beauty of this affiliation.”

Shubin said the ideas from the lightning talks and roundtables showed the affiliation’s immense potential. Now his objective is to keep that conversation going and make the potential real.

“This affiliation is yours,” Shubin said to the gathering. “Your ideas, your teaching, your research programs will define it.”

University of Chicago and MBL Announce Lillie Awards for Novel Collaborations

mbl-lillie_awards_featureThe University of Chicago and the Marine Biological Laboratory announce the launch of a new MBL research award program that will provide funding for scientists to develop novel, collaborative projects based at the MBL that will lead to transformative biological discoveries.

The initiative will be known as the Frank R. Lillie Research Innovation Awards, in honor of the early 20th-century embryologist who served as the MBL’s second director and as chair of UChicago’s Department of Zoology. The awards represent the first formal new research opportunity since the announcement in June 2013 of the new affiliation between UChicago and the MBL.

Funding through the awards will be open to collaborators from the world-wide MBL research community, including year-round MBL scientists and scientists from other institutions who currently participate or propose to participate as visiting researchers or course faculty in the MBL’s renowned summer programs.

“The Lillie Awards signify one of the first steps our institutions are taking together to realize the highest aspirations of our new affiliation — to encourage innovative, groundbreaking biological research that benefits science at the MBL and beyond,” said University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer.

“The MBL’s motto is ‘biological discovery in Woods Hole,’ and its special influence in modern biology has been to bring together scientists from around the world to collaborate and exchange ideas, leading to discoveries that have transformed biology and biomedicine,” said MBL President and Director Joan V. Ruderman. “This program will help seed promising working collaborations that can then take root in the MBL’s fertile intellectual setting.”

The Lillie Awards will provide for two years of pilot research for a total of $125,000 per award, in honor of the MBL’s 125th anniversary. They are intended to bring together interdisciplinary teams that have not collaborated before, for a project that represents a new area of inquiry for the investigators.  The goal is to stimulate more “blue sky” thinking by investigators that can lead to external funding with a consortium of collaborators working together on a big problem.

Teams who receive the Lillie Awards will be able to develop their projects over a period including two or three successive summers, working  in residence as a team at the MBL, in addition to continued progress on the project during the traditional academic years in between MBL visits.

“Today’s funding environment can make it difficult to develop innovative, collaborative projects that require time to take shape and establish connections,” said Joshua Hamilton, Chief Academic and Scientific Officer at the MBL. “By providing the time and place for new collaborations, these awards will help our scientists take unexpected directions and address new problems, including ‘high-risk, high-payoff’ projects that are increasingly difficult to fund at the national level.”

Proposals for the awards will be accepted starting in mid-October, with a deadline of December 15, 2013 for the first round of submissions. An external blue-ribbon panel of scientific experts will be established to review proposals in early 2014, with award notices provided by March 31, 2014. The institutions will make two awards available in each of the next two years, with the two-year projects beginning in Spring 2014 and Spring 2015. More information will be available October 1 on the MBL/ University of Chicago affiliation website.

The decision to name the awards after Frank R. Lillie highlights the collaborative aims of the new UChicago-MBL affiliation. Lillie was a student at MBL and UChicago under Charles O. Whitman, the MBL’s founding director, who also served as the founding chair of Zoology at UChicago. Lillie became a faculty member at the University of Chicago in 1900 and remained until his death in 1947.  In addition to his role as Zoology chair and MBL director, Lillie later served as Dean of UChicago’s Division of Biological Sciences. Present in Woods Hole every summer for 55 years, Lillie was instrumental in establishing the MBL as a pre-eminent biological laboratory.

“We have laid the principle of cooperation at [the MBL’s] foundation,” Lillie said, “and we have attempted to build it into every one of our activities.”

The affiliation between UChicago and the MBL is designed to build on shared values and historical ties between the institutions. The MBL has been a driving force in biological discovery and research training since its founding in 1888. Both institutions have reputations for scientific excellence, highly collaborative cultures that draw top scientists from around the world, and programs that will benefit from the affiliation’s combination of strengths.

Apply to  the Frank R. Lillie Research Innovation Award Program