Visitor of the Week: Mary Jo Talley

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Meet Mary Jo Talley of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and University of Cincinnati. Mary Jo is a fourth-year graduate student in Ron Waclaw’s lab and a part of the 2019 Chromatin, Epigenetics and Gene Expression course cohort.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am interested in understanding how stem cells determine which adult cell they should mature into. I study different kinds of brain cells to learn the mechanisms of stem cell differentiation.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I majored in Neuroscience during my undergraduate career and found developmental biology to be fascinating. For my PhD, I wanted to combine my interests in developmental biology and neurobiology, so I joined a lab were I could study both.

How did your scientific journey begin?
When I was in middle school, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She started medication for Alzheimer’s, but the medication made her symptoms worse. The doctors realized that she actually had a different form of dementia. It was at this time that I realized so little is known about a lot of neurological diseases. I wanted to get into science to better understand these diseases, how to better diagnose these diseases, and to develop better therapies.

Was there something specific about the Chromatin, Epigenetics & Gene Expression course that drew you to apply?
I was excited to come to this course to learn how to perform techniques such as ChIP-seq and CRISPR that could help me study differential regulation of genes, as well as how to analyze the data from these kinds of experiments.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
All the techniques taught in this course are techniques not currently used in my lab. By introducing these new techniques to our ongoing projects, we will be better able to study the genetic controls of cell fate decisions in the brain.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
This course has done a lot to improve my confidence as a scientist. This course has fostered a very supportive environment, where I was able to ask many questions and try so many new techniques.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
Courses at CSHL are an excellent way to learn new techniques, interact with other scientists interested in similar topics as yourself, and network with some of the top scientists in the field.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
CSHL has a beautiful campus that all the students stay on together. We’ve become very good friends and have had a lot of fun – including a dance party one night in the lab!

Mary Jo received financial support from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to cover a portion of her course tuition. On behalf of Mary Jo, thank you to NCI for supporting and enabling our young scientists to participate in training courses where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Mary Jo for being one of this week's featured trainees. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Agbonlahor Okhuarobo

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Meet Agbonlahor Okhuarobo of Scripps Research Institute. The Nigerian national trained as a pharmacist at the University of Benin (Nigeria) and he is now in Candice Contet’s lab working as an external graduate student finalizing a self-developed new mouse model to study the correlation between early life stress and alcohol dependence vulnerability. Since Tuesday, Agbonlahor has been at our Banbury campus taking part in our Neuroscience of Addiction course to even further understand the role of neuroscience in addictive behavior. 

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My research interests include understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms that drive drinking escalation in alcohol dependence.

At Scripps Research, I developed a novel mouse model on the interaction between early life stress and vulnerability to alcohol dependence which I will use as a tool to study the molecular underpinnings and psychopathological consequences of alcohol dependence vulnerability induced by early life stress.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I became interested in alcohol addiction research during my MSc studies in the University of East London (United Kingdom), where I investigated the role of opiate and dopamine systems in alcohol preference and relapse-like behavior in Drosophila Melanogaster (fruit fly). I subsequently joined Scripps Research to have access to animal models and modern neuroscience research resources not available in Nigeria and took the lead on my current project. The limited bedding and nesting model of early life stress I used in developing this novel model of alcohol dependence vulnerability mimics the adverse conditions of poverty many children in Nigeria experience, some of whom go on to develop alcohol dependence later in adulthood. This novel model has many aspects of the human condition and thus will have a higher translational potential than existing models. This may lead to the development of treatment strategies for this subset of individuals dependent on alcohol.

How did your scientific journey begin?
My scientific journey began with me taking up a job as an assistant lecturer/researcher at the University of Benin (Nigeria). This role enabled me to better appreciate the enormous contribution of science in changing the lives of people with diverse diseases, and for the better. Thus, I felt a strong desire to be part of the beautiful scientific minds making our world a better place. In my role as a lecturer, I became involved in several research activities with a focus on alcohol related behavior impacted by concomitant caffeine use.

Was there something specific about the Neuroscience of Addiction course that drew you to apply?
I wanted to take advantage of my time in the US to acquire as much as possible; skill sets relevant to addiction research which are not readily available in Nigeria.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
I will include in my project, chemogentic/optogenetic and genetic manipulation of relevant neuronal projections into the nucleus accumbens to unravel the mechanisms driving the vulnerability to drinking escalation in mice with a history of early life stress.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
New insights into experimental approaches for investigating the role of relevant neural circuits in addictive behavior.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
The course on Neuroscience of Addiction is comprehensive and very relevant and I advise you to go for it!

What do you like most about your time at our Banbury Campus?
The quiet and beautiful environment.

Agbonlahor received financial support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to cover a portion of his course tuition. On behalf of Agbonlahor, thank you to NIDA for supporting and enabling our young scientists to participate in training courses where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

 Thank you to Agbonlahor for being this course's featured participant. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Chantell Balaan

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Meet Chantell Balaan of the University of Hawai’I at Mānoa where she is a PhD student in the only Astyanax mexicanus (Mexican tetra) lab in Hawai'i led by her PI, Dr. Masato Yoshizawa. Chantell recently wrapped up a week at our lecture-based workshop on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – her first course at CSHL.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My current research focuses on utilizing a novel model, Astyanax mexicanus (Mexican tetra), to better understand ASD etiology and how various diets may affect our model both behaviorally as well as physiologically.  

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I have always appreciated the biomedical relevance to our research and would like to further pursue it in a translational way. Our ultimate goal is to develop robust, streamlined therapies for the children and families dealing with ASD.

How did your scientific journey begin?
My journey in science started as a curious little girl wading in the taro patches of my family’s farm where I spent my weekends observing nature. I believe it was here where I developed my observational skills that I currently utilize in my behavioral research.   

Was there something specific about the Workshop on Autism Spectrum Disorder that drew you to apply?
The opportunity to apply to this workshop was advertised by my PI’s mentor, Dr. Margaret McFall-Ngai who urged that this would be a great opportunity. The panel of speakers really drew me in to apply and the topics to be covered is significant to the overall direction of my PhD.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the workshop to your work?
I have a greater understanding of the clinical perspective and implications of our animal research and I want to always be conscious of this when analyzing my data, especially when I am trying to characterize a fish across ASD-relevant behaviors.

What is your key takeaway from the workshop?
I have several takeaways from the course: 1) ASD is a heterogeneous condition; therefore, our approach need to be a heterogeneous one as well, and 2) There is no one best way to behaviorally and physiologically model ASD using a non-human model. There is no one best non-human model out there, but each model still has its importance in helping us understand basic brain biology that can better inform us of the underlying neurological mechanisms of ASD.

If someone curious in attending this workshop asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would definitely recommend them to take the workshop! This workshop exceeded my expectations and opened my mind to the field in a more comprehensive matter. Because I am studying Autism Spectrum Disorder, there is both a clinical and bench work research component to the field. At this workshop, there was a great balance between lecturers and presentations of that dynamic. If you want to attend a course and are interested, please apply! 

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I enjoyed the scenery here in Long Island! It is truly beautiful and has a peaceful atmosphere to it. I know it may be odd to hear that given I am from Hawaii, but there is a different type of beauty that blankets the Banbury campus. There is also a nice beach that is a short walk behind the Robertson House. Additionally, the Robertson House was arranged nicely and our accommodations fit the scenery.

Chantell received financial support from the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) to cover her course tuition. On behalf of Chantell, thank you to IBRO for supporting and enabling our young scientists to participate in training courses where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Chantell for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Eduardo Scopel Ferreira da Costa

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Meet Eduardo Scopel Ferreira da Costa of the University of Georgia. He is a third year PhD student, a member of Douda Bensasson’s lab, and since last week has been training in our yeast course (and for the Plate Race). Though just a little over a week into the three-week annual course, the Brazilian national is fully immersed and has already gathered newfound techniques and experiments to bring back to his home institution.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
From an evolutionary and ecological perspective, I study the variation in the number of chromosomes (aneuploidy) in yeast living in different environments; e.g. beer, oak trees, or humans. The long-term goal of my project is to develop a model that can estimate the occurrence of this type of mutation not only in yeast, but in any eukaryote.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Aneuploidy is associated with drug resistance in pathogenic fungi and many diseases in humans, including cancer. It is quite common in yeast, which is also an amazing model system with a wide availability of tools. The possibility to combine evolutionary biology with bioinformatics to study such an exciting topic was the main reason why I chose this as the focus of my research.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I knew I wanted to work in science since high school. I was always very curious and excited to make things work better, which was the main reason I decided to get my undergraduate degree in Engineering. That drive to work in science grew after I got my master’s in Biotechnology and was consolidated after I started teaching undergraduate Engineering classes back in Brazil. The experience of mentoring students and being able to share my knowledge with others is very rewarding, and is one of my major long-term goals as a scientist.

Was there something specific about the Yeast Genetics & Genomics course that drew you to apply?
My training is in Engineering and I have been working exclusively with bioinformatics lately. So, I felt that the next logical step for me was to strengthen my training in yeast genetics and wet lab techniques. I believe that to completely utilize the awesome power of yeast genetics I needed to know how to generate the data I am accustomed to analyzing everyday using computational tools. The combination of the training given by lead scientists in the field with the immersive environment provided by the course were other reasons that drew me to apply.

The techniques I was mostly interested in learning were Genome Engineering, Synthetic Genetic Arrays, and Fluctuation Analysis.

Though you’re only roughly one third of the way through the course, what have you so far learned from it that you can apply to your work?
Before coming to the Yeast Course, I was only working on the computational analysis of data generated from other studies. Now, I will be able to generate data myself and follow-up with my computational analyses. When I go back, I will immediately start using experiments I learned in the course, many of which are not currently being done in the Lab I work in.

Do you already have a takeaway from the course that you want to share?
The instructors and TAs have done an amazing job planning a course that challenges students constantly. Even though the workload of the course is very high, it is totally worth it. I feel like I have been learning something new every day, even in subjects where I have been working on for a long time. Also, the experiments are carefully designed for the students to learn multiple techniques and concepts simultaneously. This combination of depth and breadth of content is rarely found in similar courses.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I had an amazing experience learning many new things and meeting outstanding scientists from different fields. This has the potential to be a turning point in someone’s professional career. My only advice would be to come well- rested and prepared for a very intense and challenging course.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The immersive environment of the course and having the opportunity to meet people that share the same passion I have for science.

Eduardo received financial support from Regeneron to cover a portion of his tuition. On behalf of Eduardo, thank you to Regeneron for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Alison for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Tuce Tombaz

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Meet Tuce Tombaz of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Norway). The Turkish national is a Ph.D. candidate within the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience and is currently training at our three-week summer course on Imaging Structure & Function in Nervous System. This is Tuce’s first course at CSHL, and she is our second trainee this summer hailing from Jonathan Whitlock’s lab.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My general interests cover a variety of topics spanning sensory and motor explorations in systems neuroscience. My work focuses on how rodent brains represent different aspects of behavior, and this interfaces with social cognition. More specifically, I investigate whether individual cells represent performed and observed actions similarly, a finding which could pave the way for understanding the neural bases of social learning.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Initially, I didn’t know. I have a background in molecular biology and genetics. I was interested in microscopy techniques to visualize things that are not visible to the naked eye. I have spent quite a of bit time in different labs to learn more about different methods that aim to answer different questions. I became very interested in my current project when I first read about it in the job description. It allows me to use imaging techniques to look for something fundamental to the animals’ experience.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I can’t specify an instance that inspired me, but having worked in multiple labs throughout my career enabled me to complete a combination of projects I completed that made me more curious about novel questions. I really enjoyed the collaborative aspects of these projects and thinking about how to solve difficult problems. It was initially at the molecular level and now at the behavior level.

Was there something specific about the Imaging Structure & Function in the Nervous System course that drew you to apply?
Yes, I knew that there is no other course which could teach so much about imaging techniques than this course. It is quite common that, during the span of the graduate program, you are extremely busy with acquiring data such that you are often unaware of the operative details of the system you are using. I was always curious to know how the system works and that fundamentally requires you to dismantle and assemble a microscope. During this course, I was able to set up multiple imaging systems from scratch and learn the theory behind them. I understand that the knowledge I will gather throughout the course will be invaluable, so I feel privileged to be here.

Though you’re only one third of the way through the course, what have you so far learned from it that you can apply to your work?
So far, I have learnt the very basics of optics, different types of imaging setups and how they are used. I also built wide-field and fluorescence microscopes. This knowledge can already be transferable because we don’t learn about any of these in graduate school and how it could all affect our data. By the end of the course I will be able to learn how to combine certain imaging systems with the optogenetic manipulations that would certainly be important for my project and also other projects in the lab.

Do you already have a takeaway from the course that you want to share?
It is really hard to pinpoint one so I will name two:

  1. Know your imaging setup completely; what the bits and pieces are and what could potentially make a big difference.

  2. Design the imaging setup according to your needs.

Both of these would give you a sense of what might be wrong with your imaging.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would highly encourage motivated scientists to attend this course. It is a very useful course if one is curious about how to build scopes for effective usage. I should also add that the course is intense. You will get to learn so much in a very short period of time.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
Meeting new people was definitely one of the highlights of this course. The campus is also very pretty.

Tuce received financial support from Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to cover a portion of her course tuition. On behalf of Tuce, thank you to HHMI for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Tuce for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.