Ethan Greenblatt of the Carnegie Institution for Science continues our 2018 Repeat Visitor series. Ethan is a postdoctoral fellow in Allan Spradling’s lab and, since 2012, has been a regular at the Germ Cells meeting at CSHL. His successive participation has enabled him to “see how projects evolve over time and what new ideas and themes come up.” This year, he again took part in Germ Cells and trained at the Drosophila Neurobiology: Genes, Circuits & Behavior course (fly course). Ethan already has plans to attend the 2020 meeting on Germ Cells so we reached out to learn more about what keeps him coming back to campus.
Tell us about your research and how you decided to make it the focus of your research?
Oocytes have an extraordinary ability to go into a “deep sleep” like arrest state for decades - human oocytes, for example, are produced during fetal development and can remain functional for up to five decades. I am interested in how oocytes control their gene expression, understanding which genes work together to keep oocytes healthy, and what eventually goes wrong that leads to age-onset infertility. The idea to study this specific question came over the course of many conversations with my advisor when I first joined this lab. This research question ties together my interests in aging and the lab’s expertise in female germ cell biology.
How did your scientific journey begin?
I was always interested in science (especially physics and astronomy) but when it came to actually doing the science, I found biology labs incredibly interesting places to be. I started my career by volunteering in the lab of the late James Dvorak at the National Institutes of Health. He taught me that there are so many fundamental questions in biology that remain unanswered and that even an individual researcher in biology can make a major advance by doing well thought-out experiments.
Since 2012, you have attended three Germ Cells meetings – what is it about this particular meeting that keeps you coming back?
The CSHL Germ Cells meeting is one of the best in the field, and I have enjoyed the extremely high-quality research going on in a multitude of model organisms. I was particularly excited to get a chance to discuss our recent research findings and learn how the frontiers of germ cell biology are evolving. The field is in the good hands of many passionate and talented researchers. These meetings are also not overwhelmingly large which gives you wonderful opportunities to interact with participants. I’ve gotten the chance to meet incredibly valuable colleagues and collaborators in the future. I had a chance to talk with many experts at an early stage in my project when I presented a poster in the 2014 meeting. The feedback I received gave me inspiration, energy, and motivation to keep on pursuing the questions I posed at the meeting.
Was there something specific about the fly course that led you to apply for it in particular?
We discovered that many of the genes that keep oocytes healthy are also required for proper neural development and function. In particular, a gene called FMR1 is linked to important autism spectrum as well as reproductive disorders. The commonality may be because synapses and oocytes use similar mechanisms to control when and where genes are expressed. I wanted to get a deeper background in neuroscience so that I might one day be able to directly connect my findings of how genes - like FMR1 - work in oocytes to understand how they help neural synapses function.
What was your key takeaway from the fly course and what advice would you impart to those interested in this course?
My key takeaway from this course was that the Drosophila neuroscience community is incredibly welcoming and supportive and that eventually doing simple neuroscience experiments in my future lab might not be as crazy an idea as I initially thought. I would love to eventually be able to test the role of oocyte genes in synaptic plasticity and homeostasis using some of the many methods I learned from the course.
My advice would be that if you’re considering the course to do it. You will be exposed to an incredible range of ideas and techniques, high quality instructors, and the hands-on curriculum will enable you to try out experiments in the lab at CSHL that you might not even know are possible.
Now that you’ve experienced both meeting and course life at CSHL, did you pick up any differences between the two function types?
The experiences of attending a CSHL course and meeting were quite different for me. The CSHL meeting is intense in a different way: a lot of great talks and late night discussions, and an amazing opportunity to present my research to the field. The meeting had the feeling of an amazing get-together with colleagues and friends from around the world; whereas, I loved the chance to feel like a student in an unfamiliar area of science during the three-week course. I loved working late into the night trying out all of the different neuroscience techniques we were learning. Many students would stay in the lab until midnight almost every night, and the instructors and students felt like a kind of family by the end of the course. CSHL became like a home.
What did you like most about your times at CSHL?
My favorite thing about the course as well as the Germ Cells meetings were the relationships I developed. At the course, it was with instructors, teaching assistants, and fellow students. Similarly, I had amazing interactions with fellow researchers in my field at the meetings.
The Drosophila Neurobiology: Genes, Circuits & Behavior course will again be offered at CSHL from June 28 to July 18, 2019; and applications are being accepted here until March 15, 2019.
Thank you to Ethan for sharing with us his experience, and we look forward to having him back at the Laboratory again. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here and here.
* Ethan received a fellowship from the Helmsley Charitable Trust to cover a portion of his course tuition. On behalf of Ethan, thank you to the Helmsley Charitable Trust for supporting and enabling scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.