Monday, November 29, 2010

Thank you "so much"

It was odd but very nice to get a confirmation email for job that was enthusiastic about receiving my application.  "Thank you so much for applying!"  Well... thank you for reading and hopefully, thank you for hiring me!!  Ah... job application season.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Feature: Seeing the light at the end of the apple

While they're not marine and very annoying in your house, fruit fly larvae have an interesting way of sensing light to improve survival.  Once their heads are buried in a fruit, it is beneficial to get the rest of the body in that fruit as well.  This decreases predation and dessication risk.  However, the main larval visual organ ('eye') has already been buried, so how does the larva know whether its behind is sticking out?  There's a novel array of neurons along the body wall that respond to light.  How these neurons actually detect the light is still a mystery!

So why do I care about fruit flies?  Well, unlike Palin, I recognize that fruit flies have been an exemplary model organism for understanding ... well life, including how we work.  More directly, I care because I'm studying a cell type in the sea urchin that we believe is involved in detecting light - even though there isn't an "eye" per se.  Fruit flies and maybe sea urchins prove that the way that humans work isn't the only way.  There are many ways to achieve something - here vision.
Light-avoidance-mediating photoreceptors tile the Drosophila larval body wall, Nature advance online publication 10 November 2010. doi:10.1038/nature09576

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Feature: Where have all the corals gone?

Another week has flown by and with it has come some new insights into the resilience and fraility of larvae in the face of climate change - including a more acidic ocean due to the rising CO2 levels.

Corals have served as a poster child for the harmful effects of a rapidly warming world.  Images of bleached and dying corals have been a mainstay in climate change research for the past decade, plus. It is feared that calcification by the corals to make reefs may be negatively impacted. Now it appears that there additional threats to these critical habitat-forming species. Rebecca Albright at the University of Florida and her co authors report in PNAS that the larval and juvenile stages of a threatened coral species suffer greatly under predicted low pH (ocean acidification) conditions.  From fertilization to settlement, projected acidification would result in a 52-73% decrease in the number of successful larval recruits!

Photo by Susie Balser, Illinois Wesleyan University (acquired from
For more information see news coverage at or if you have access, the PNAS article at

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Feature: Life of a Sand Dollar (aka sea biscuit)

Every Friday, I plan to post images or video of larvae to demonstrate the beauty, utility and critical importance of this life stage.

One of the best videos showing the larval (and juvenile) life of an echinoderm.  In our lab we study sea urchins which are closely related to sand dollars.  The larvae look very similar.  Most of our lab and other developmental labs only study the first few days or hours during embryogenesis (in the video, the few seconds spanning the egg dividing and gastrulating (making a gut)) to gain insights into early developmental events, e.g. initial specification and differentiation, which are difficult to study in mammals.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Self dispersal

It can become a yearly event in a postdoctoral lifecycle with a specific phenology occurring in the fall - job applications.  It is a depressing, reflective, hopeful, and stressful time.  How many hundreds of applicants will each job get this year?  Will I even make the initial cut?  Get an interview?  The sad truth is, like many other professions, there is a gluttony of applicants and a scarcity of positions.  I think most of us knew that the money wasn't good, but the creativity, intellectual challenge and freedom made up for that.  But what happens when we fall out of the pipeline because we can't secure a job?  I know that's not very inspiring to those thinking about pursuing this career... and I had a hard time reconciling my (and friends') struggles along this career path with an educational workshop in which I participated where one of the goals was to increase interest in scientific career paths.  But I guess that's the nature of these types of careers - artists, performers... and now scientists.  We persevere for the love, defeats, and triumphs associated with exploring the unknown.

So I will continue my attempts to disperse to a new location with the hope of undergoing microevolution into an Assistant Professor.  I am at the mercy of the currents as to where I settle again - across country, down the street, or back to my birthplace... or stay put for now?