Clinging to the side of a marina you might find the usual suspects like mussels and barnacles, but lurking among these life forms is a less familiar one, a squishy invertebrate that looks like nothing more than a translucent tube. This creature is the sea squirt, Ciona instestinalis. Despite its unassuming appearance, Ciona could hold the key to understanding how the brain--the most complex structure in the universe--came to be. By investigating the evolutionary origin of the brain, we can uncover the roots of the remarkable variety of intelligence in the animal world and gain a deeper appreciation for the beautifully complex human brain. Princeton researchers are now studying the simple ‘brain’ of the sea squirt to begin to unravel this evolutionary story.
In this episode of The Highlights, we’re joined by Mira Nencheva, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology. We discuss her path to graduate work in psychology, the day-to-day of working with toddlers at the Princeton Baby Lab, and how the vocal pitch of a caregiver can affect learning early in life.
This episode of The Highlights was produced under the 145th Managing Board of The Daily Princetonian in partnership with Princeton Insights. Mira Nencheva is a graduate student in the Princeton Baby Lab of the Department of Psychology. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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Microbes are powerful tools in the biotechnology industry. Like microscopic factories, microbes are employed to manufacture a diversity of chemical compounds, such as industrial chemicals, food products, drugs, and other biotechnology molecules, on a large scale. Given the ease of genetic engineering in microbes like Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, scientists and metabolic engineers alike tinker with their metabolic capacities, or even completely rewire them, to yield high concentrations of a specific product . Metabolic engineers aim to maximize the efficiency of these biosynthetic processes. High efficiency, in turn, delivers biomolecules that are more readily available and at a lower cost. Metabolic engineering applications also can be more sustainable or environmentally friendly than traditional chemical synthesis approaches [1,2]. Recently, a team of researchers in the Avalos lab, led by former Ph.D. candidate Makoto Lalwani (now postdoctoral researcher at the Wyss Institute), added an additional layer of genetic engineering to this process: They are using light as a strategy to advance biomolecule production .
In this episode of The Highlights, we’re joined by Jarome Ali, a graduate student in the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB), and Professor Mary Cassie Stoddard, the head PI of the Stoddard lab in EEB. We discuss her career in sensory ecology and color vision in birds, her field experiments in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and the science of nonspectral colors.
This episode of The Highlights was produced under the 145th Managing Board of The Daily Princetonian in partnership with Princeton Insights. Jarome Ali is a graduate student in the Stoddard Lab of EEB, and Cassie Stoddard is an associate professor of EEB. Dr. Stoddard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preserving the integrity of DNA is crucial to maintaining a cell’s functions and life cycle. However, DNA is regularly under attack by chemical and physical agents, such as toxins and UV rays from the sun, that can cause breaks in the chemical backbone that holds a strand of DNA together. This DNA damage can lead to dire consequences if left unaddressed, with effects ranging from cell death to uncontrolled cellular proliferation, which leads to cancer. Thankfully, our cells have evolved mechanisms of repairing broken DNA in order to alleviate the risks of accumulating DNA damage.
In this episode of The Highlights, we’re joined by Patricia Hoyos, a graduate student in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute (PNI). We discuss her work on the development of spatial biases in school-aged kids, the challenges and perks of working with children, and her experiences transitioning her work from undergraduate independent work to a graduate project.
This episode of The Highlights was produced under the 145th Managing Board of The Daily Princetonian in partnership with Princeton Insights. Patricia Hoyos is a graduate student in the Kastner Lab of PNI. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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Have you ever found yourself in deep thought in a public setting only to come to your senses and arrive at the uncomfortable realization that you’re making eye contact with another person? Such is the dilemma that faces us when we lose control of our awareness. Awareness—a module of behavior that allows us to be conscious of stimuli in our environment—is fundamentally distinct from but similar to attention—the process of selectively focusing the mind on certain stimuli at the expense of others. In an insightful new study led by graduate student Andrew Wilterson of the Graziano Lab at Princeton University, researchers used stimulus-prediction tasks and MRI imaging to investigate the interrelated nature of awareness and attention in the human brain.
Individual cells go through life cycles, in which they grow and prepare for cell division. Similarly, in certain bacteria, groups of cells go through a synergistic cycle involving the formation and disassembly of biofilms. Biofilms are essentially groups of cells that surround themselves in layers of self-made extracellular matrix proteins and polysaccharides. A biofilm is a way for cells to protect themselves from dislocation or death by predation and are present in both beneficial and pathogenic bacterial microbiomes. The sticky extracellular matrix is a structure that pathogens such as Vibrio cholerae (the bacteria that causes Cholera) can hide in to avoid detection by immune cells and thus increase their virulence. In this way, biofilms essentially provide protective armor for bacterial cells that inhibits our ability to fight pathogenic infections.
In this episode of The Highlights, we're joined by Zhilei Zhao, a former graduate student in the McBride Lab of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. We discuss his experiences working in the lab during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as his study of the delicate neuroscience of mosquitoes and its potential impact on the fight against malaria and other insect-borne illnesses.
This episode of The Highlights was produced under the 145th Managing Board of The Daily Princetonian in partnership with Princeton Insights. Zhilei Zhao is a post-doc in the Goldberg Lab at Cornell University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proteins are ubiquitous in our cells. Currently, it’s estimated that the human body contains between 80,000 and 400,000 protein molecules, all busily performing the many tasks that keep your cells running smoothly and ultimately go into making you. Not only do proteins form the structural framework of your cells, but they also protect your body against foreign pathogens, help digest your food, and send and transmit signals around your body. However, they don’t do this in isolation: proteins are constantly working hand-in-hand with other proteins and molecules in your body, like your DNA, RNA, small molecules, and ions. When your DNA is replicated, or an ion is actively transported, the proteins doing the job need to recognize those molecules (and often bind to them) in order to carry out their task properly. This fundamental process of a protein binding to a partner molecule, or ligand, is critically important in biological processes ranging from development to cancer. And yet, we know surprisingly little about what proteins bind what ligands, and where -- knowledge that is key in understanding, and possibly manipulating, the inner workings of cells.