MBL Zebrafish Course 2015
Course photo on the stairs of Loeb building on MBL campus.

It’s been almost a week now that I am back from “fish camp”, or, officially, the “Zebrafish Development and Genetics” course at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. The various summer courses at the MBL are the stuff of legend, for various reasons.

So what does a day in fish camp look like? If you’re brave, you get up early for a run or a swim at 7AM. (Just look at that beach panorama below, okay?)

Stoney Beach, Woods Hole
Stoney Beach in Woods Hole, five minutes from the Marine Biological Laboratory campus.

Breakfast at 8AM. Start the day with a “pit talk” on the day’s planned experiments from 8-10AM, often including live demos of the procedures. Lab session where you then do things yourself, 10AM-4PM, interrupted by 1 hour lunch and an additional demo session dropped in for an hour (or so). Lab session wrap-up from 4-6PM, supper till 7:30PM. Two research talks by faculty teaching at the course, 7:30-9:30PM. A combination of late night sessions – setting up time lapses, checking progress of embryos from the day – and beer & chips in the break room till 11PM.

Late night review
Late night review of gastrula stage transplantations done throughout the day.

The night goes on at the (one) local pub, the Kidd, where course participants, faculty, and coordinators share pitchers until last call at 1:15AM. As we are neither tired nor ready to call it a night, the beach is calling, and we enjoy the bioluminescent plankton till we collapse in our beds. Repeat for 13 days, and you can call it a proper zebrafish course.


Eel Pond, Woods Hole
Eel Pond, at the center of Woods Hole, seen from the Marine Biological Laboratory campus.

Located just across from Martha’s Vineyard on Cape Cod, Woods Hole is one of the most scenic places I have visited in the United States. Historic buildings, water and vegetation everywhere, beaches, sail boats, it’s all there. Being home to two of the finest US research institutions (MBL and the Oceanographic Institute), it still has a very small town feel. This environment definitely adds to the fame of the MBL summer courses.

In terms of course materials, sessions, and teaching faculty, we covered an extremely broad range of topics and techniques. Starting from early development and morphogenesis, we made our way through injection and transplantation, focal labeling of ganglion cells, live imaging of cell migration, up to resections of zebrafish hearts and behavioral assays. The course did, in fact, give a comprehensive overview of zebrafish genetics, development, and then some – which is an incredible achievement for the short time of two weeks. All throughout the course, close contact between faculty and students was not a goal, but a reality. This is especially impressive given that the faculty is recruited from the leaders and pioneers in the zebrafish field, and an important ingredient is the small course size of 22 participants.

The two weeks of the course passed in two minutes, the memories feel like two months. I had a blast, made new friends, and arrived back to Dresden full of new things to try. Thanks to the organizers, directors, staff, faculty, and the other 21 students who made it the special time it has been.

Oh, see a couple more photos on vastenhouwlab.org

Reference for the focal heat shock video:

Placinta, M., Shen, M.-C., Achermann, M., & Karlstrom, R. O. (2009). A laser pointer driven microheater for precise local heating and conditional gene regulation in vivo. Microheater driven gene regulation in zebrafish. BMC Developmental Biology, 9, 73. doi:10.1186/1471-213X-9-73

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