It’s not every day that William and Mary undergraduates get an opportunity to chat about their research with a Noble Laureate, but that is exactly what happened at Princeton last weekend during the Mid-Atlantic Developmental Biology meeting sponsored by the Society for Developmental Biology. A contingent of students from the research group of Dr. Diane Shakes attended the meeting and presented their data in a poster session. It was a fantastic meeting and the poster session was no exception. From the Shakes’ lab, one poster detailed the recent discovery of graduate student Maureen Farrell and undergraduate students Xiaoxue Lin and Caitlin McCaig – that many nematodes “do hermaphrodism differently” than the standard “model nematode” – Caenorhabditis elegans. Nobel Laureate and Princeton professor Eric Wieschaus, who has never lost his joy as a biologist, remarked that he always loves to see what can be learned from non-traditional organisms.
The other Shakes’ lab poster was by senior honors thesis student Jackson Peterson who is using C. elegans to explore the function of the kinase, spe-6. SPE-6 plays an essential role in nematode sperm activation but its homologs in humans are involved in diverse medical conditions including Alzheimer’s and ALS. Dr. Wieschaus and several other faculty members were impressed the scope of Jackson’s work, and Jackson ended up being awarded 1st place in the undergraduate poster competition! For the students, the experience was like getting a chance to hang out with a scientific rock-star. As Jackson noted, Dr. Wieschaus’s work has been fundamental to our understanding of developmental biology and represents almost 3-4 weeks of material in an undergraduate level Developmental Biology course!