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August 12, 2004
Lab Bits - August 2004
A media tip sheet from the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Clams: They're Not just for Chowder Anymore
International Team of Scientists Hopes to Pry Open Part of the Clam Genome
New England's favorite summertime delicacy, the chowder clam, has just been elevated to a whole new status. An international team of scientists-who credit studying surf clam (Spisula solidissima) cells with important research breakthroughs in the study of diseases such as cancer, premature aging, and muscular dystrophy-has just convened at the Marine Biological Laboratory to begin sequencing some of the clam's active genes.
The effort, called the Clam Project, is the first step toward sequencing the entire clam genome, and its goal is to provide scientists with better knowledge of the clam's active DNA. Such information is crucial to the study of the basic cellular processes involved in many diseases. The scientists plan to use the new genetic information to create antibodies. And they hope to begin experiments impossible without those antibodies as soon as the project is complete.
The research team includes: Avram Hershko of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Yosef Gruenbaum of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Robert Palazzo of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Robert Goldman of Northwestern University, all visiting summer investigators at the Marine Biological Laboratory.
The research is made possible through the generous support of the Manhattan-based Gruss Lipper Family Foundation.
Listen Up! Mice May Hold Key to Restoring Human Hearing Loss
In an effort that may someday lead to the treatment of hearing loss and balance disorders, which currently affect about 28 million Americans, Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) visiting investigators Jeffrey Corwin and Stefan Heller are working this summer to make large numbers of mouse stem cells "grow" into inner ear sensory hair cells-acoustic receptors that are a critical part of the auditory system.
The work is important because, in humans, inner ear sensory hair cells are a precious commodity. Humans are born with only about sixteen thousand of these sound detectors in each ear, which can be easily damaged by age, certain illnesses, exposure to loud sounds, and some medications. Once damaged, the cells do not easily grow back. And with the cell loss comes so-called irreversible hearing loss.
The two scientists are collaborating to develop new methods to expand and maintain adult stem cells isolated from the mouse inner ear to establish long-term stable cell lines. This is the first step toward the ultimate goal of creating implantable human hair cells that will grow happily; eventually repairing damaged hearing and restoring balance.
Corwin, a neuroscience professor from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, and Heller, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School will be collaborating at the MBL through August as part of the Albert and Ellen Grass Faculty Grant Program.
Visiting African Scientists Collaborate with MBL Scientists on Infectious Diseases
Over the next few months, two African scientists will be collaborating with researchers in the MBL's Josephine Bay Paul Center for Comparative Molecular Biology and Evolution to help further the world's understanding of infectious diseases, which are responsible for one third of all human deaths each year. The visiting scientists, called the Ellison Visiting Scholars, are here to take advantage of the Bay Paul Center's Global Infectious Diseases Program (GID). The Ellison program provides scientists studying infectious diseases, from both developed and under-developed countries, access to the Bay Paul Center's cutting-edge facilities and expertise in using molecular biology, molecular evolution, biochemistry, genetics, and bioinformatics-all of which are helping scientists better understand infectious diseases.
The African scholars will also share their first-hand knowledge of the impact infectious diseases have in their home countries, and will develop strategies with MBL scientists to combat these diseases. One important pathogen studied by the visiting scholars in the GID program is the African trypanosome. This vicious parasite causes human sleeping sickness, a fatal disease that has reemerged as a major health problem in sub-Saharan Africa. Gustave Simo, from Cameroon, will be at the MBL from now through mid-September. Henrietta Awobobe, from Nigeria, will arrive mid-September to spend three months in the GID laboratory. The Ellison Visiting Scholars Program brings 10 scientists, from around the world, to the Bay Paul Center annually. This program is funded by The Ellison Medical Foundation of Bethesda, Maryland.
The Marine Biological Laboratory is an independent scientific institution, founded in 1888, dedicated to improving the human condition through basic research and education in biology, biomedicine, and environmental science. MBL hosts research programs in cell and developmental biology, ecosystems studies, molecular biology and evolution, neurobiology, behavior, global infectious diseases and sensory physiology. Its intensive graduate-level educational program is renowned throughout the life sciences. The MBL is the oldest private marine laboratory in the western hemisphere.