BAR HARBOR—At the recent annual meeting of the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory (MDIBL),President Herman Haller announced that the lab has received a $1 million challenge grant. The grant, said Haller, will allow the lab to continue its 122-year legacy of recruiting and retaining outstanding scientists, providing cutting-edge educational programs, expanding opportunities for visiting scientists, investing in technology and innovation and fostering ways to translate the results of research to benefit and improve human health.
In the last year with funding from a five-year COBRE grant, the lab hired two new scientists—Jarrod Rollins and Sam Beck. Rollins is looking at how dietary restrictions affect life span while Beck, using a bioinformatics approach, is looking beyond the aging model to see how aging affects other systems and diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Another new recruit is Romain Madeline, who is studying how stem cells modulate neural regeneration. James Godwin, who holds a joint appointment with The Jackson Laboratory and MDIBL, and Pryag Murawalawill work together to expand MDIBL’s limb regeneration program.
The lab is currently reorganizing its animal facilities. For the past several years, scientists at MDIBL have used zebra fish or C.elegans as animal models. But Godwin and Murawala work with axolotl, or salamanders. In addition, Iain Drummond, the scientific director of Katharine Davis Center for Regenerative Medicine and Aging, uses killifish to study how aging impacts regeneration.
Because of travel and visa issues related to COVID-19, neither Madeline nor Murawala has yet to arrive at the lab.
During the past year, MDIBL has begun recruiting more international graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.Although Drummond had arranged for four graduatestudents from the University of Paris—and all had visas—to study here, COVID-19 upended those plans. The lab has plans to bring in up to 10 graduate students from the University of Hannover in Germany, where Haller holds a joint appointment, to join labs here. One of Haller’s goals is to have at least one graduate student and one post-doctoral fellow in each permanent faculty’s lab.
The lab is also committed to expanding opportunities for visiting scientists. In a departure from an earlier model where visiting scientists moved their labs to MDIBL for the summer, Haller anticipates that visiting scientists will work alongside permanent faculty to collaboratively pursue and solve research questions. Making this possible requires renovating the “cottages” on MDIBL’s campus. Thanks to Mark Hanscome and his crew whohave begun some of this work, the cottages are much less rustic and have considerably more light and modern appliances.
Hanscome’s crew has also been renovating some of the labs that are not part of the Davis complex, and the lab has submitted a grant to the Maine Technology Institute to renovate the 2,400-square-foot Neal Lab.
Although the arrival of COVID-19 forced the lab to suspend some courses for undergraduates during the March break, by late April MDIBL’s educational group,led by Jane Disney, successfully moved the annual Maine Biological and Medical Science Symposium to an online format—a format that still enabled participants to view posters and ask questions of the presenters. To date, the lab has hosted six virtual courses, summer research experiences for 23 students and an upcoming biomedicalboot camp for high school students.
Another outreach program, the Science Café, moved to an online format, and the number of those participating has increased substantially, said Development director Jeri Bowers.
“There was no lockdown during the COVID crisis, just a slowing down,” said Haller. “Thanks to timely and transparent communication, staff were supported and felt safe. We instituted a program to provide financial assistance where necessary, we kept animal facilities running and we moved some programs to an online platform—all of which improved community spirits.”