Tag Archive for Devoto

StemCONN Symposium Shows Connecticut is Leader in Stem Cell Research

Stephen Devoto, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, spoke on “A Protection Racket: Tbx6 and the Establishment of Muscle Stem Cells in the Zebrafish Embryo” during the StemConn 2017 conference, held April 27 in New Haven, Conn.

Professor Stephen Devoto spoke at the StemConn 2017 conference, held April 27 in New Haven, Conn.

The annual StemCONN conference, held April 27 in New Haven, made clear that Connecticut’s commitment to stem cell research has helped the state become a national leader in this burgeoning area of research and commercial development.

Wesleyan is one of the founders of the StemCONN conference, along with Yale and the University of Connecticut. This year marks the 6th StemCONN conference, an event that brings together more than 500 individuals from academic institutions, bioscience industry, and government.

“Stem cell research continues to be an exciting and fast-paced field with new discoveries fueling prospects for new therapies based on regenerative medicine for a range of debilitating medical conditions, and Connecticut is at the leading edge of this field,” said Janice Naegele, professor of biology and one of the symposium’s organizers. “A major emphasis of StemConn’s mission is education, and this year’s conference attendees included undergraduate trainees, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows. Special interactive sessions over lunch provided a fabulous small group format for undergraduate and graduate students to ask questions and discuss career paths with our invited speakers. This is a one of a kind opportunity for many of our trainees.”

Connecticut passed ground-breaking legislation in 2005, becoming the first state to fully approve funding for stem cell research. The 12-year, $100-million per year initiative has enabled the state to compete successfully for scientific talent in the field and has helped to establish a growing bioscience corridor in the Hartford-New Haven area.

Wesleyan Students Recognized for Scientific Images

This summer, Stephen Devoto, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, launched the inaugural Wesleyan Scientific Imaging Contest. The contest, which recognizes student-submitted images from experiments or simulations done with a Wesleyan faculty member that are scientifically intriguing as well as aesthetically pleasing, drew 35 submissions from the fields of physics, biology, molecular biology and biochemistry, psychology, earth and environmental science, chemistry and astronomy.

Participants submitted an image along with a brief description written for a broad, scientifically literate audience. The entries were judged based on the quality of the image and the explanation of the underlying science. The first-place prize went to Eliza Carter ’18 from the Earth and Environmental Science Department. Aidan Stone ’17 and Jeremy Auerbach ’17 tied for second places, while Riordan Abrams ’17 won third place. The images were judged by a panel of four faculty members: Devoto; Ruth Johnson, assistant professor of biology, assistant professor of integrative sciences; Brian Northrop, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of integrative sciences; and Candice Etson, assistant professor of physics.

The first-place winner receives a $200 prize; the second-place winner receives $100; and the third-place winner receives $50. Prizes were funded by the Office of Academic Affairs.

Devoto was inspired by a similar contest that his daughter won at Haverford College.

“Students at Wesleyan produce extraordinary scientific images, ranging from graphs and computer simulations to microscope and telescope images,” he said. “I wanted students to have fun, to think of their scientific images in an artistic sense. And I thought that the artistic presentations of student scientific images would be a striking testament to the quality and fun of student research here. I hope these will be displayed on campus to highlight the science and the creativity, which thrive at Wesleyan.”

The four winning images are shown below, along with scientific descriptions:

Eliza Carter '18 submitted a scanning electron microscope image of the shell of a radiolarian (a protozoa) found near the top of an Antarctic sediment core from ODP site 697. The radiolarian shell is around 2.7 million years old and is made from silica that was produced by the radiolarian. Studying the percent biogenic silica in a sediment sample is a proxy for primary productivity: the more biosilica you have, the more productive it was.

Eliza Carter ’18 submitted a scanning electron microscope image of the shell of a radiolarian (a protozoa) found near the top of an Antarctic sediment core from ODP site 697. The radiolarian shell is around 2.7 million years old and is made from silica that was produced by the radiolarian. Studying the percent biogenic silica in a sediment sample is a proxy for primary productivity: the more biosilica you have, the more productive it was.

Faculty, Students, Alumna Co-Author Paper on Skeletal Myogenesis in Zebrafish

Stephen Devoto, professor of neuroscience and behavior; Rosemary Doris, visiting assistant professor of biology; Ph.D. candidate Steffie Windner; and neuroscience and behavior major Chantal Ferguson ’13 are the co-authors of a paper that is the culmination of three years of research. The paper, titled “Tbx6, Mesp-b and Ripply1 Regulate the Onset of Skeletal Myogenesis in Zebrafish” is published in the March 2015 edition of Development, Vol. 142, No. 6, pages 1,159-1,168. The paper is a collaboration between Wesleyan, Kings College London and the National Institute for Medical Research (MRC).

Devoto highlights the importance of the paper:

The paper identifies three new regulators of muscle development, using research with genetically modified zebrafish. It shows that these three proteins form a network that regulate each other. These three proteins and the genes that encode them also regulate the most basic vertebrate features – the body segments that will form the vertebrae and ribs. Thus, the paper demonstrates a genetic linkage between segmentation and muscle development.

The paper’s abstract can be found here.

Devoto Elected to Middletown’s Planning and Zoning Commission

Stephen Devoto, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior won the only seat on Middletown’s Planning and Zoning Commission open to a Democrat on Nov. 5.

Devoto won Middletown’s Planning and Zoning primary election Sept. 10 with 710 votes.

Read more about Devoto’s win in this Middletown Press article,  Middletown Patch article and this “Meet the Candidate” article.

Devoto’s Study Contributes to the Understanding of Birth Defects, Muscular Diseases

By studying a gene in zebrafish, Stephen Devoto and his students have a better understanding of what causes birth defects and diseases affecting human musculature.

Professor Stephen Devoto and his students have identified a gene that controls a critical step in the development of muscle stem cells in vertebrate embryos. This discovery will allow scientists to better understand the causes of birth defects and diseases affecting human musculature, such as Muscular Dystrophy, and opens doors for the development of effective stem cell therapies for such diseases. Devoto is professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.

The study, “Fss/ Tbx6 is required for central dermomyotome cell fate in zebra fish,” was published in July in Biology Open. Though the research was done on zebrafish, the gene, known as Tbx6, exists in all vertebrates, including humans. The lead author was graduate student Stefanie Windner. Other co-authors, all part of Devoto’s lab, were Devoto, post-docs Nathan Bird and Sara Patterson Ph.D. ’08, and lab manager Rosemarie Doris. Funding was provided, in part, by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development.

A number of undergraduate students also assisted in the research, and are extending this work further.

“Chantal Ferguson ’13 and Jaewon Chung ’13 are deeply involved in every step of research—from grant writing to discussing theories and models to doing experiments,” Devoto remarks. “They’re working side-by-side with graduate students and post-docs, part of the kind of research group typically seen only at research universities.”

For this paper, members of Devoto’s lab studied a mutant strain of zebrafish, which were missing a functional copy of the gene Tbx6. They observed that the embryos of these mutant fish had a defect in the dermomyotome—a tissue comprised of stem cells that can give rise to muscle fibers. These stem cells can either proliferate into other dermomyotome cells, or differentiate into muscle cells—which, themselves, cannot divide further. Thus, when the stem cells develop into muscle, they hit a dead end of sorts, precluding any additional muscle fibers from developing in the future. The group concluded that Tbx6 functions as a key part of the mechanism which either triggers the development of the dermomyotome, or inhibits the development of muscle.

“Tbx6 is a critical component of the switch that regulates the proportion of embryonic cells that become stem cells as opposed to muscle fibers,” explains Devoto.