| Pictured at top, right, Yashan Zhou ’09 and Mo Sarakun ’07 teach seventh graders from Woodrow Wilson Junior High School how to make their own sushi rolls.
Pictured at left, Ada Fung ’06 teaches the students how to paint cherry blossoms on rice paper.
Pictured below, Alex Weber ’06 teaches martial arts and the history of the shaolin.
| Seventh-grader Liam Wolfram had tried sushi at Japanese restaurants, but hes never attempted to make his own. Last month, Liam did just that as he and 25 of his classmates from Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Middletown experienced a taste of East Asian Culture at Wesleyan by preparing their own sushi rolls.
It only took about a minute to make, and its really good, Liam says, chomping off a bite of his seaweed wrap, teeming with tuna, cucumber and carrot. The rice sticks to the top of your mouth, though.
The student-run program is offered Friday mornings throughout the academic year and reaches about 300 students each year. Wesleyan students plan and run the activity workshops for each visiting class.
What do you know about Japan? asks the programs co-coordinator Mo Sarakun 07.
Its made up of islands, one student answers.
They have a lot of noodles there, another replies.
Sarakun, a China native who studies Japanese culture at Wesleyan, taught the sushi session and talked to the students about Japan. Afterwards, the seventh graders moved to another room to learn about painting on rice paper.
Program co-coordinator Ada Fung 06 taught painting techniques and the students participated and went back to school with their own paintings of cherry blossoms.
Fung, who has worked as a coordinator for three years, says she enjoys working with area children because of their eagerness to learn something new.
Curiosity and open-mindedness are the two most important things a student can bring when they come to participate in the program because theyll get a lot more out of it, she says. It’s a crash course in East Asian culture, but if we can plant the seed, just inspire and encourage them to keep learning about other cultures and countries, I think we will have achieved our purpose.
The Outreach Programs coordinators tailor each session to the incoming classs age level, ranging from preschool through high school. Visiting classes average about 25 students in size, and are split into three smaller groups which rotate among the activity sessions. This way, each student has the opportunity to participate in three different activities.
Other sessions offered include Writing and Language, Food in East Asia, Martial Arts, Japanese Tea Ceremony, East Asian Music, Traditional Clothing, Kamishibai Story-telling and Origami. Po-wei Weng, a graduate student in the Music Department, also has taught segments on Peking Opera, introducing the music, techniques, gongs and symbols.
The sessions may include visits in the Freeman Centers Japanese-style tatami room and garden, a kitchen to prepare Chinese and Japanese meals, and a gallery with changing exhibitions of East Asian art.
Wesleyan students benefit from teaching the sessions, explains Stephen Angle, chair of the East Asian Studies Program, director of the Freeman Center for East Asian Studies and associate professor of East Asian Studies and philosophy.
The Outreach Program gives our own Wesleyan students the opportunity to practice communicating their understanding of East Asian culture to others, Angle says. At the same time, our students are serving a younger generation of students in the community surrounding Wesleyan.
This is the second year Kim Fentress, a teacher at Woodrow Wilson school, brought her geography students to the Wesleyan program.
Were just beginning to study East Asian culture, and the program here at Wesleyan really ties in with that were learning, Fentress says. Its wonderful we have Wesleyan right here in Middletown.
|By Olivia Drake, Wesleyan Connection editor|
Campus News & Events
by Olivia Drake •
Pictured left to right, front row: Gloster Aaron, assistant professor of biology; John Seamon, professor of psychology; Janice Naegele, associate professor of biology; John Dekker, candidate, department of neurobiology, Harvard Medical School; Megan Carey, postdoctoral fellow, neurobiology department, Harvard Medical School; Allan Berlind, professor of biology, emeritus; Joshua Gooley, postdoctoral fellow, Division of Sleep Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; David Bodznick, professor of biology; Harry Sinnamon, professor of psychology; John Kirn, chair, neuroscience and behavior program and associate professor, biology; Back row: Sam Sober, postdoctoral fellow, Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience, UCSF and Mauricio Delgado, assistant professor, department of psychology, Rutgers University.
| The Neuroscience and Behavior Symposium was held at Wesleyan University on Feb. 11.
Organized by John Kirn, associate professor of biology, neuroscience and behavior (NS&B) and Chair of Wesleyans Neuroscience & Behavior Program, the symposium was designed to allow current Wesleyan undergraduates to discuss the major and research with established alumni of the Neuroscience & Behavior Department. Nearly 60 people attended the symposium, which was followed by lunch and an informal panel discussion.
I think that current students like to hear first hand about the experiences of others who are a few steps further along in their career paths, says Kirn, who hoped to also attract to the symposium Wesleyan students who dont conduct research, and who have limited interactions with graduate students.
All of our current majors doing research interact with our own graduate students and I think this is a very important mentoring process – yet another reason why we are lucky to have a Ph.D. program, he says.
Kirn also says the conference was a great opportunity for current students to learn how the speakers structured their own educations at Wesleyan and to find out what their lives are like now.
Current Wesleyan students, like Emily Gallivan and Jessica Ghofrani, both Sophomore NS&B majors, were happy with the small, intimate symposium setting and found the presentations interesting.
Junior NS&B major Tarek Sami agrees.
I liked hearing about the history of the department and this was a great opportunity to meet alumni and current faculty in the department, he says.
One of the symposiums featured speakers was alumna Megan Carey 96, now a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School. Carey also received a masters from Wesleyan Universitys NS&B department in 1997. She presented a talk on her Ph.D, thesis which she earned from the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), titled Visual instructive signals for motor learning.
Careys work suggests a mechanism for how sensory signals represented in specific brain areas can lead to changes in neuronal activities that trigger learned behaviors, such as riding a bike or playing tennis. Carey studied the repeated eye movements of monkeys in order to gather her information.
Another alumni, Sam Sober 98, discussed his Ph.D. dissertation research, titled Sensory Integration During Motor Planning.
Sober, who also received his Ph.D. from UCSF, is now a postdoctoral fellow at UCSFs Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience. He spoke about his Ph.D., which involved analyzing the movements that human subjects made when reaching towards targets in a virtual reality environment.
Sober used virtual reality to alter visual imagery, by shifting an image of the subjects arm away from its true location.
This led to people making reaching errors, explains Sober. We analyzed these errors and found that the brain is very adaptable in how it combines visual information with proprioceptive (the felt sense of posture) information.
Sober says that although his studies focused on healthy individuals, a basic understanding of how the brain integrates different sources of information could help us understand disorders resulting from strokes and traumatic brain injuries.
Sober, who earned a Luce Fellowship, took a year off after graduating from Wesleyan to study acupuncture in Korea. He told the audience that taking a year off between finishing undergraduate studies and beginning graduatestudies or medical school was a good way to stem potential burn out.
Other presentations included Entrainment of the Circadian Timing System, by Joshua Gooley 00; Reward-related processing in the human striatum, by Mauricio Delgado 97 and Single Channel Analysis of Mammalian HCN Gating, by John Dekker 98, 99.
These speakers, who once did research in our labs, are now doing excellent work and we wanted to recognize them for their achievements, says Kirn. Based on suggestions of some students, wed like to host something like this again with alumni who arent in academic positions with a theme like Just what can I do with this NS&B degree anyway?
|By Laura Perillo, associate director of Media Relations|
by Olivia Drake •
Judith Brown, vice president for academic affairs and provost, will step down from her position June 30. She will spend a year on sabbatical, and return to Wesleyan as a professor of history in 2008.
Brown was recruited six years ago to help Wesleyan achieve its highest academic aspirations as a liberal arts university.
Judith brought extraordinary intelligence and commitment to what is surely one of the most difficult jobs in university administration, says President Doug Bennet. I speak for the trustees and all of us in thanking her for her leadership and celebrating her plan to return to scholarship here at Wesleyan.
Brown, who has not has a sabbatical since 1992, has worked in academic administration for 11 years. She made her announcement during a faculty meeting Feb. 14.
I am ready for a change and for a change of pace, she says. I would like to take a break, to resume some intellectual projects I have neglected, to explore new intellectual horizons, and above all, to take more time to be with and travel with my family, especially with my husband, Shannon, while we are still able to enjoy a healthy, energetic, and active life.
Bennet will appoint another faculty member as interim vice president for academic affairs and will actively consider nominations.
It is of the greatest importance that we sustain the momentum and direction to which Judith has contributed so much, and meet the objectives in the strategic plan, Bennet says.
by Olivia Drake •
Pictured left to right, 9-year-old Monica gets homework help from Wesleyan basketball players Gabe Gonzalez-Kreisberg ’09, Jared Ashe ’07 and Nick Pelletier ’08 during the Green Street Arts Center After School Program. Below, Gonzalez-Kreisberg, who helped launch an ongoing tutoring volunteer initiative goes over a book report with 7-year-old J.J. (Photos by Olivia Drake)
Students involved in Middletowns Green Street Arts Center After School Program look up to Wesleyan Universitys basketball team in more ways than one.
They always tell me that Im so tall! exclaims Gabe Gonzalez-Kreisberg, a 6-ft. 8-inch tall Wesleyan freshman, recalling how students he helps tutor at the center, like 7-year-old J.J., describe him.
Gonzalez-Kreisberg recently helped launch an ongoing tutoring volunteer initiative at Green Street Arts Center with Wesleyan Universitys basketball players.
The idea first occurred to Gonzalez-Kreisberg after Wesleyan basketball coach Gerry McDowell encouraged his team to volunteer in the Middletown area during their winter break from classes.
Gonzalez-Kreisberg remembered an e-mail he received from Wesleyans community service office calling for tutors at Green Streets After School Program. He then mentioned the program to Coach McDowell and the entire team immediately agreed to help.
As a result, in shifts of four players per day, the basketball team began to regularly tutor Middletown children enrolled in the program. Even now, with spring semester underway, a handful of players continue to tutor in their free time.
Many athletes have a sense that things should be given to them, and I wanted our team to know that they should give something back to the community, says McDowell. Our team is a solid group of guys, who all care about one another on and off the court and this is important for them to do as a team.
I love math and I always encourage the kids to stay with it and to have fun, says Jared Ashe, the Wesleyan basketball team captain and a junior Economics major from Stamford, Conn. In sports, great coaching motivates you to play your best. I want to motivate the kids with their homework in the same way.
When they arrive at the Green Street Arts Center, the students, who range in age from seven to 14, eat a snack and socialize a bit with friends. Then the students who are not enrolled in arts classes go to the homework room where several tutors, including the basketball players, are stationed to assist them.
After helping students finish their homework, which can be in a variety of subjects including math and reading, the players often talk with the kids and sometimes play board games with them.
Ashe, who has always enjoyed tutoring his peers even back in high school, says the board games help to motivate the students to follow through and finish up their homework.
Thirteen year-old Elijah always wants to finish his homework, he says, because that means Gonzalez-Kreisberg will tell him a story afterwards.
One time, Gabe told me how he touched the court at an Orlando Magic game! shouts Elijah.
During every tutoring session, Wesleyans basketball players agree that the students always seem to get excited about their schoolwork.
I think one reason why is that were such a close group of guys that are all genuinely happy to help out, says Ashe.
Gonzalez-Kreisberg says another reason why is because he and his teammates act as mentors for the students.
Because we play a sport and because these students are impressed by the NBA, it allows us to connect directly to them, says Gonzalez-Kreisberg.
We try to always stress to them that we are just people who happen to play basketball and that were strong in our academics first, then in athletics, he says.
Despite heavy academic and athletic schedules, both Ashe and Gonzalez-Kreisberg, and other players, like sophomore Nick Pelletier from Amherst, New Hampshire, are committed to continue tutoring at Green Street. Even Coach McDowell has committed to spend some time tutoring at the Center before the year is out.
Having the team volunteer during Winter break was a tremendous help as we are often left with no student volunteers until classes resume in late January, says Ricardo Morris, Director of the Green Street Arts Center. It was also especially nice to have so many male volunteers. I hope the basketball team and other males will consider volunteering at Green Street more often.
This is such a positive experience for us as individuals and as a team, says Ashe. Hopefully it will continue long after we have all graduated from Wesleyan.
|By Laura Perillo, associate director of Media Relations|
by Olivia Drake •
| Wesleyan received a $200,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support an ongoing lecture series titled Ethics, Politics and Society. The award was given in honor of Douglas Bennets 10 years as president of Wesleyan University.
Wesleyans history of diversity, openness, and activism provides an environment that embraces the opportunity for scholarly discourse around issues of ethics, politics and society, Bennet wrote in the endowment proposal. As a liberal arts college, we have a responsibility to produce graduates who are able to think and act strategically within an ethical and moral framework. A permanent lecture fund, which does not have to compete each year for scarce financial resources, will go far in helping us achieve this goal.
The grant, awarded in December 2005, will allow Wesleyan to bring prominent speakers to campus who will engage faculty and students in intellectual discussions of critical and sensitive ethical, political and social issues.
The lecture fund will serve multiple university objectives. It will stimulate intellectual life on campus by introducing new perspectives and experiences to current issues; promote positive and civil political discourse; lay a foundation for lifelong participation as concerned and engaged citizens; and complement efforts already underway to incorporate ethical reasoning in the curriculum.
Expenditures from the Mellon-funded program, estimated at $10,000 a year, will be used for an honorarium, travel expenses and associated costs for the speaker to give a public lecture, attend a class and/or meet informally with faculty and students for one or two days.
As on many college campuses, Wesleyan recognizes that recent national events, as well as ongoing political and social unrest in several parts of the world, have altered how students view society as well as how they discuss their views, Bennet says. As students and later as graduates of Wesleyan, they will be faced with moral and ethical choices. This will be true, he says, in whatever courses of study or careers our students choose to pursue, from business to scientific research to politics to art.
Wesleyan is already stressing ethical reasoning in the curriculum. Wesleyan has hired new faculty positions in ethics and encourages faculty to designate courses that stress ethical reasoning.
The university also has established a faculty workshop to help them integrate ethics in their courses. This year, students can chose from among 88 courses with an ethics designation.
Wesleyan has a responsibility to prepare students to think clearly about current issues, to make informed choices and resolve conflict between diverse viewpoints, Bennet says.
by Olivia Drake •
David Beveridge, pictured at right, the University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics and professor of chemistry studies molecular dynamics of biological molecules and systems with postdoctoral fellow Bethany Kormos and research associate Surjit Dixit.
by Olivia Drake •
Ferocious Beauty: Genome premiered Feb. 3 and Feb. 4 in the Center for the Arts Theater.
How we heal, age, procreate and eat may soon change because of genetic research happening right now. The world premiere of renowned choreographer Liz Lermans Ferocious Beauty: Genome explores this moment of revelation and questioning in an arresting theatrical work that combines movement, music, text and film.
The world premier of Ferocious Beauty: Genome took place Feb. 3 and Feb. 4, in the Center for the Arts Theater.
The piece is the result of an unprecedented partnership with scientists and ethicists to confront the promise and threat of a new biological age.
For the past three years, the CFA and Wesleyan faculty have partnered with the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, led by Liz Lerman, to explore the ethical and social repercussions of genetic research. The Liz Lerman Dance Exchange is a professional company of dance artists that creates, performs, teaches, and engages people in making art.
Through relationships with Wesleyans science faculty and students, Wesleyan served as a laboratory for Lermans development of the piece. This collaboration reflects both the Dance Exchanges and Wesleyans emphasis on interdisciplinary learning, as the project has initiated an unprecedented dialogue between scientists and artists. The outcome will be represented through a plurality of viewpoints, mirroring a dialogue among multiple voicesartistic, scientific and scholarlyin their varied perspectives.
Wesleyan provided extensive information, assistance and feedback in helping Lerman to create the piece.
The piece took a conceptual turn several times because of the contributions from the scientists at Wesleyan, Lerman says. And, the fact that one of the scientists is a dancer made the leap between the two disciplines easier.
The partnership with Wesleyan has also resulted in the most comprehensive residency ever undertaken by a dance company at Wesleyan. Lerman joined Wesleyans dance faculty as a visiting assistant professor for fall 2005. Students in her class had the opportunity to explore scientific, ethical and social issues related to genetic research.
Liz Lerman, who received a MacArthur Genius Grant fellowship in 2002 for her visionary work, exposed Wesleyan students and faculty to the Dance Exchanges methods and interdisciplinary approach. The ultimate goal was to refine ways to teach science to non-scientists and to gain knowledge through embodied movement.
Wesleyan and the Flint Cultural Center in Flint, Mich. are the lead commissioners of Ferocious Beauty: Genome.
The show will soon tour major performing arts centers including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and the Krannert Center for Performing Arts at the University of Illinois.
For more information on the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange visit http://www.danceexchange.org/.
by Olivia Drake •
| As part of Wesleyan’s on-going efforts to provide staff education dedicated to diversity issues, the Office of Affirmative Action is sponsoring a workshop, “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the Academic Workplace, on Feb. 9.
The workshop will be offered twice: at 9:30 a.m. in the Russell House, and at 1:30 p.m. in Woodhead Lounge. Each session meets for two hours and 15 minutes.
This workshop will provide frameworks for understanding sexual orientation and gender identity in a more integrated way and offer participants in-community perspectives on work-related issues, explains Michael Benn, interim director of Affirmative Action.
The workshop will be conducted by Dorothea Brauer, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning & Ally Services, Diversity & Equity at the University of Vermont.
Topics of discussion will include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights, same-sex marriages versus civil unions, benefits and family configurations.
Participants will have opportunities to work with language and terminology and become more culturally competent and confident that their workplace conversations are respectful and inclusive.
Wesleyans revised and expanded policy on discrimination and harassment can be found online at http://www.wesleyan.edu/affirm/policy_harassment.html.
Space is limited to 30 participants per workshop. For more information or to register e-mail Janice Watson at email@example.com or call 860-685-2006.
Pedro Noguera Challenges Racial Inequality in Schools
The Office of Affirmative Action and The Center for Faculty Career Development sponsored a discussion titled “Challenging Racial Inequality in Our Schools featuring Pedro Noguera on Feb. 1
Noguera, a professor specializing in urban sociology in the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University, spoke on the ways schools are influenced by social and economic conditions in the urban environment.
Noguera has served as an advisor and engaged in collaborative research with several large urban school districts throughout the United States. He has also done research on issues related to education and economic and social development in the Caribbean, Latin America and several other countries throughout the world.
by Olivia Drake •
| Editor’s Note: The following article is written by Douglas Bennet, president of Wesleyan University.
During the first week of January I represented Wesleyan at a two-day summit on international education hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. The summit brought together 120 college presidents to discuss concerns, opportunities, and initiatives related to study abroad for U.S. students and study in the U.S. for international students. Both President Bush and Mrs. Bush addressed the summit.
The summit gave me the chance to reflect on Wesleyans role in international education. I was reassured that we are doing well. Many of the initiatives proposed during the summit confirm that we are on track.
President Bush opened the summit by announcing a national strategic language initiative. Much of the media attention devoted to the summit focused on his call for $114-million to teach languages critical for national security to students from kindergarten through college. While the Presidents comments focused on security issues, colleges engage in international education for reasons that go far beyond war and security.
Secretary of Education Spellings remarks broadened the goals of language study as a way to prepare students to engage in all facets of global business, economic, research, as well as security issues. She pointed out that only 44 percent of U.S. high school students study any foreign language while most European and Asian countries require that all their students take a second language.
Wesleyan has been very strong in language and studies of cultures for a long time. Most students arrive here with a substantial background in at least one foreign language and are likely to study a new language while they are here. While only 8 percent of college students nationally take any foreign language courses, 60 percent of Wesleyan students enroll in at least one foreign language class. We do not formally require language study, but some of our language faculty have found Wesleyan students more interested and motivated because they are choosing to study a language instead of filling a language requirement. In addition to European languages, Wesleyan students are very interested in Arabic, Chinese and Japanese. We will consider where there are ways to connect the Wesleyan curriculum that the Presidents critical language initiative.
Slightly more than half of our students participate in study abroad programs compared with 2 percent of all U.S. college students. Of those, half participate in programs outside Western Europe considerably more than at our peer institutions. Having spent several years working on economic development issues, both here and abroad, I am convinced that many aspects of globalization are most clearly understood in these emerging countries.
Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes raised the issue of how to make it easier for science students find research opportunities abroad. Our science faculty regularly travel and collaborate internationally in their research, but its more difficult for our science students to participate in a semester abroad without disrupting their research. We will follow up on initiatives raised at the summit and look for opportunities to expand study abroad options for science majors.
When the President and Secretary Rice each mentioned finding a balance between security considerations and attracting international students to study in the U.S. they received loud applause. I hope the summit helped calibrate this balance. We must compete successfully for international scholars and students if the United States is to offer an education with a meaningful global perspective. As the President and others recognized, many current world leaders were educated in the United States.
Wesleyan will continue to recruit international students and faculty. Currently, 6 percent of our student body comes from abroad. This figure includes 88 Freeman Asian Scholars from 11 Southeast Asian countries who are at Wesleyan for a full four years. All of these students bring an international perspective to the campus. The Freeman Asian Scholars program is without precedent elsewhere and a truly unique asset for Wesleyan.
There will always be more to do as we prepare our students for a global society and our current strategic plan, Engaged with the World, sets ambitious goals for us. Still, I returned from the summit knowing that Wesleyans engagement with international issues is robust and ongoing.
by Olivia Drake •
| Richard W. Dick Couper died on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at a hospital in New Hartford, N.Y.
Couper served on the Wesleyan University Board of Trustees from 1972 through 1983 and was elected as a trustee emeritus following his retirement from the Board. He was one of the longest serving trustees of his alma mater, Hamilton College, where he was the sixth generation of his family to attend.
Couper served on the boards of more than 60 organizations throughout his life.
He was president emeritus of the New York Public Library, having served as president and chief executive officer from 1971 to 1981. Couper was also president emeritus of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.
Couper is survived by his wife Patricia Pogue Couper, and three children, Frederick of West Hartford, Conn.; Thomas, of Los Angeles, Calif.; and Margaret Haskins, of Morrisville, Vt.; and four grandchildren.
Memorial gifts may be sent to the Trustees of Hamilton College, 198 College Hill Road, Clinton, NY 13323, or the Presidents Office, The New York Public Library, 42nd and Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10018.
A memorial minute will be presented in recognition of Coupers service on behalf of Wesleyan at the February 2006 Board Meeting.Photo courtesy of Hamilton College.
by Olivia Drake •
Laura Grabel, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science and professor of biology, is working with Connecticuts Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee on ways to save the state money on a research laboratory.
Grabel along with scientists from Yale University and the University of Connecticut, believe at least one core laboratory could be established in the state. The scientists told a panel overseeing Connecticut’s 10-year, $100 million stem cell research initiative that they are willing to collaborate and avoid repeating the same work and save money. They said they could share expensive equipment and conduct certain research with human embryonic cells that is not eligible for federal money and prohibited in facilities built using federal funds.
The Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee is in the beginning stages of determining how best to distribute the first chunk – $20 million – of the state’s $100 million investment. The committee hopes to award grants this summer, possibly as early as June 30.
by Olivia Drake •
|Stephen Devoto, associate professor of biology, neuroscience and behavior, studies vertebrate developmental patterns in zebrafish.|
| A tiny fish popular with aquarium enthusiasts is poised to make a big splash in our understanding of muscle development. The results could have implications on the comprehension and perhaps treatment of muscular dystrophy, certain types of heart disease and other serious muscle-based ailments.
These findings by Stephen Devoto, associate professor of associate professor of biology, neuroscience and behavior were recently published in the paper titled Generality of vertebrate developmental patterns: evidence for a dermomyotome in fish,” in the January issue of the scientific journal Evolution & Development.
Devotos research examined the musculature of the tiny zebrafish, an aquarium favorite indigenous to South Asian streams. What the researcher found was that although fish and human beings comprise widely different physical forms, their underlying muscular development is much more similar than scientists had previously believed.
This research validates the idea that understanding fish development will tell us how human muscle stem cells develop at the very beginning stages,” says Devoto, who has been studying zebrafish at Wesleyan since 1992. “At their very basic level, we found developmental similarities between all vertebrates are much more striking than previously documented.
In basic terms, Devotos work compared the cell layer that contributes to muscle formation in many different vertebrate species, including zebrafish, trout, skates and chickens, among others. He demonstrated that this cell layer in fish, know as the dermomyotome evolved prior to the last common ancestor of all vertebrates.
It was one of those ah-ha moments, admits Devoto, who has always been fascinated by how cells talk to one another, how they are created and how they morph. It was the kind of moment that is so rewarding for a scientist.
But such moments are rare and often require tremendous amounts of work in and out of the lab. In Devotos case, the journey actually took him to Europe.
While on sabbatical at Kings College in London during 2004, Devoto engaged in many lengthy talks with Simon Hughes who was Devoto’s host. Hughes, who provided Devoto with laboratory access during his stay in London, is also a fellow co-author, about chicken and frog muscle development.
Our conversations planted the initial seeds that maybe muscle in all vertebrates is formed the same way, Devoto says.
Their ideas were solidified after Devoto reviewed a cross section of trout embryos with Walter Stoiber, another co-author, at the University of Salzburg in Austria.
Surprisingly, these connections had not been demonstrated before, Devoto says.
After returning to Wesleyan in the summer of 2004, he threw himself into researching the early muscle cell development in as many fish species as he could find.
Katherine Wolfe, an Olin Library assistant in the Interlibrary Loan Department, helped Devoto obtain copies of obscure hand-drawings and research from the 1800 and 1900s. Often he had to do his own translations of the German and French citations.
I got so excited when I found out one of the journals was in I couldnt wait to analyze it, Devoto says. It turned out that some nineteenth century scientists doing comparative embryology suspected these similarities, but they did not have the ability to provide conclusive evidence back then.
After analyzing their findings, Devoto and co-authors began writing the paper in the fall of 2004.
Devoto and his team continues their research with zebrafish. The tiny fish are a transparent species that is easy to study and breed. Currently, about 5,000 of the fish reside in his laboratory.
One of Devotos ongoing projects examines their skeletal muscle signaling protein, named Hedgehog. He and his colleagues learned that, when the protein is intentionally blocked in zebrafish, muscle development is disrupted. With his new work demonstrating close similarities between fish and humans in muscle development, Devoto believes that it is very likely that Hedgehog signaling is required for muscle development in humans. Anomalies in this signaling may underlie some muscle diseases such as muscular dystrophy and certain types of heart disease.
Devoto and his undergraduate and graduate students are also trying to find out what happens next to the embryonic zebrafish muscle cells after they form.
Were now extending our thought process and asking ourselves where do the cells go from this point and what exactly does this mean?
|By Laura Perillo, associate director of Media Relations|