Jennifer Wolff, Biology

Date of Report: 7/2/12

Equipment Purchased with the Award

Zeiss Stereodiscovery V12 Fluorescence Dissecting Microscope

Tritec MINJ-1000 research microinjector system with inverted microscope and manipulator

(Please note that I did not purchase two Leica MZ10F fluorescent dissecting microscopes and light sources as listed on the spreadsheet)

Impact of Equipment on Teaching

Zeiss Stereodiscovery V12 Fluorescence Dissecting Microscope:

The experience of seeing a fluorescently tagged cell in a living organism is a "Wow" moment—looking at a sensory neuron as an organism seeks out its food is certainly more powerful than seeing a picture of this neuron. This microscope has allowed students in Developmental Neurobiology, Animal Development, and Genetics to do just this—they have looked into the microscope and seen fluorescently tagged neurons in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and in the zebrafish Danio rerio. They have also investigated what happens when development and gene expression in these neurons goes wrong because of genetic or environmental changes. This microscope has been essential in involving students in the Neuroscience Concentration (the courses mentioned are all NEURO electives) in investigating the molecular genetics of neuronal development; these studies would have been impossible without this piece of equipment that allows us to see the neurons under study.

This scope has also been instrumental in engaging high school students in neuroscience exploration and research, as students in the Carleton Summer Science Institute (CSSI) Neuroscience Course have also used this scope for three summers (2009-2011). Thus, over the course of three summers, over 100 high school students have seen living neurons with their own eyes and have used this microscope to compare neuronal development in normal C. elegans worms and those with novel genetic mutations.

Tritech MINJ-1000 research microinjector system with inverted microscope and manipulator:

The Tritech microinjector is used to make transgenic C. elegans strains that express fluorescent tags (such as the jellyfish green fluorescent protein, GFP) in neurons and other cells. The neuronal visualizations described above would not be possible without the capacity to microinject DNA into C. elegans to generate fluorescently tagged cells. In addition, learning to microinject is a technical skill that has helped students know first-hand how strains and data are generated in the laboratory.

Impact of Equipment on Research

Both the Zeiss Stereodiscovery V12 fluorescence microscope and the Tritech microinjector have been essential to my research, which focuses on understanding the development of sex-specific neurons in the model nematode, C. elegans. My field, developmental neurobiology, is interdisciplinary in that it combines developmental biology and neuroscience in examining the embryological origins of neurons. My research students, postdoctoral fellow, and I used the Stereodiscovery V12 to perform a genetic screen to identify new genes that control development of male-specific serotonergic neurons. This problem addresses a complex genetic question: How do sex-determining genes influence genes that control neuronal development to generate distinct neurons in each sex? The ability to use the Zeiss scope in a pilot genetic screen resulted in funding for a larger-scale screen and subsequent genetic analysis through a National Science Foundation grant. The microinjector allows us to generate transgenic C. elegans strains with fluorescently tagged neurons and to explore abnormal gene expression in the mutants we have isolated. Most importantly, this research project demonstrates the connectivity of research and teaching at Carleton: it has generated many smaller investigative projects that have engaged college and high school students in classroom laboratories in the investigation of a novel problem in developmental neurobiology.

Materials Developed As A Result of Equipment Acquisition

Seeing Neurons I and II (Acrobat (PDF) 4.9MB Jul6 12)

Neuronal Development Project Handout CSSI 2011 (Acrobat (PDF) 2MB Jul6 12)