Laboratory diary

【Looking back at two wonderful weeks at the BRH】

May 1 , 2013

Maarten Hilbrant

I am currently working as a post-doctoral researcher in the group of Dr. Alistair McGregor (Oxford Brookes University, UK). My scientific interests include animal development and the evolution of morphology, and part of my research focuses on the embryonic development of spiders. So why are we interested in spiders? Apart from our fascination for the unique life style of these little creatures, the real merit of this work lies in the comparison between the embryos of many different animal groups - including humans. It turns out that, although adults from diverse animals such as spiders and flies, but also snakes and humans, and even sea stars and rain worms all look really different, many of the molecular processes that are fundamental for their embryonic development are very similar. This means that, by studying the development of different types of animals, we can not only admire the beauty of the complexity of animal form, but we can also learn a great deal about our own embryonic development, as well as our evolutionary origin.

For someone with an interest in spider development it does not take long to come across the work of Dr. Hiroki Oda and Dr. Yasuko Akiyama-Oda, here at the BRH; for many years these two researchers have been a driving force in the field. By developing and applying a range of new techniques, they provided fascinating new insights into the evolution of development. One of the techniques developed in their lab involves injecting tiny amounts of liquid into early spider embryos. Together with this liquid, agents can be administered that interfere with the expression levels of specific genes, thus allowing the dissection of the function of those genes. I was very keen to learn this technique and was very pleased that Dr. Oda was supportive of collaboration between his and our lab. Moreover, a short-term fellowship from the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) allowed me to visit the BRH.

Having just arrived back from Japan, I am now reflecting on a very successful and pleasant period. My impression of the BRH, and of the Oda lab in particular, is that of a great research environment. The facilities are first class, and the different research groups cover a broad range of biological research. The organization of the Oda lab allows for the concentration that is needed in order to perform technically challenging experiments, while the work atmosphere remains cheerful and interactive. Therefore, during my two weeks stay, I not only managed to learn and apply the injection technique, but also had many interesting conversations with Hiroki, Yasuko and the other members of the Oda lab, and got inspired by the detail with which experiments get performed. Moreover, I interacted with members of all the other research groups, I learned from Dr. Keiko Nakamura about the unique concept of the BRH and visited the beautiful exhibitions. On top of that, I was very lucky to see the cherry trees in front of the BRH blossom!

I would therefore like to express my gratitude to the BRH for hosting me, to Dr. Hiroki Oda, Dr. Yasuko Akiyama-Oda and Ms. Akiko Noda for all their help, to all members of the BRH for the warm and welcoming environment during my stay and to EMBO for funding me.

[ Maarten Hilbrant ]