How do animals produce a healthy egg cell? To answer this, many developmental biologists investigate the complex choreography of factors required for successful egg cell development, called oogenesis. This process is crucial to the survival and reproduction of many vertebrate and invertebrate species and, remarkably, diverse species often employ a common strategy where the growth of the egg cell is supported by an interconnected network of germline, or reproductive, cells. Like cellular factories, the job of the germline cells is to produce and export nutrients to the egg via connecting cytoplasmic canals. The nutrients these support cells supply to the egg include proteins and the nucleic acids that code for them, called RNA transcripts.
Welcome to our new segment, Minute Insights! This segment will highlight research or high-level experimental techniques conducted and used by graduate students in different departments at Princeton. In this video, learn about Princeton Insights writer Olivia Duddy’s research in the Bassler Lab.
Review written by Amy Ciceu (2024) & Adelaide Minerva (PNI, G2)
As youngsters, we develop memories of and connections to our parents, who nurture us throughout not only our childhoods but also much of our lives. These memories and relationships play vital roles in teaching us how to navigate the world. Do other animals form similar memories? A recent study published by the Gould Lab in Princeton’s departments of Psychology and Neuroscience discovered that mouse pups form memories of their maternal caregivers within days of birth and that these memories endure as the pups age into adulthood.
It has been estimated that there are at least as many bacterial cells in our bodies as there are our own cells1. The vast and diverse collection of bacteria and other microorganisms that live within and on us is known as the human microbiome. We are colonized with microorganisms from birth, but the structure (composition) of our microbial communities evolves throughout our lives2. In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that human health is inextricably tied to the state of our microbiomes. For example, Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease of increasing prevalence. Changes in the composition of the gut microbiota, as a result of diet and other environmental factors, have been associated with severe Crohn’s disease states3.
Have you ever wondered why we tend to talk to children in a different way than we speak to adults? You might think there isn’t much to it. After all, kids are cute, so adults melt, and hence - “baby talk.” Yet, this difference serves a very important purpose. Several decades of studies have shown that children, from young infants to toddlers, prefer this kind of speech; most importantly, when exposed to speech directed to them in this way, children are more engaged and learn more. But why? We can first consider the differences between speech to children, and speech between adults. One of the most recognizable ways in which caregivers tend to speak to children--child-directed-speech (CDS)--is characterized by significant variation in pitch and intonation. Compared to CDS, “adult” voice and intonations are much more monotonous, so children have a harder time concentrating. Thus, researchers believe that the overall higher level of engagement engendered by CDS promotes learning in children. What is less known, however, is how children process and learn from specific patterns of stress and intonation of CDS on the level of individual words. Recently, Princeton researchers Mira Nencheva, Elise Piazza, and Professor Casey Lew-Williams in the department of Psychology took on exactly this question. They identified specific ways in which caregivers’ pitch changed throughout a word (pitch contours) of CDS in English and analyzed how engaged two-year-old children were during these different pitch contours and how well they learned novel words that followed these contours. Their findings provide a sub-second frame for understanding the mechanisms and features of CDS that make it optimal for children as they listen to CDS in real time.
Many household goods, from dyes and plastics to contact lenses and aspirin, are made using petroleum byproducts. Over the past 150 years, chemical catalysts have been optimized to efficiently convert crude oil into starting materials for a wide range of products. Unfortunately, petroleum is a non-renewable resource, and emissions from petroleum processing are a big contributor to climate change. A team of bioengineers from the Avalos Lab at Princeton University is investigating an alternative: a petroleum-free way of manufacturing carbon-based goods that uses genetically engineered yeast to convert sugar into high-value products.
Princeton scientists have long been at the forefront of research into nuclear fusion, a challenging process in which light atomic nuclei—hydrogen, for example—are chemically fused together to form heavier elements. The process releases immense amounts of energy, and is a promising approach for meeting the world’s energy needs. Early research dating from the post-war period explored designs for fusion-based weapons, but quickly interest turned to the process of harnessing fusion to generate usable electricity. Fusion research is a vast field encompassing both theoretical and experimental work, and it is not hard to see why controlled fusion remains a difficult problem after almost a century of progress: a prerequisite to achieving the fusion of light ions is the ability to super-heat the ions, in the form of a plasma, up to temperatures of 108 Kelvin within large reactors. To do this, all while maintaining the ability to confine and control the plasma, is no easy engineering feat.
All plants use the enzyme Rubisco to capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but Rubisco is hindered by a slow reaction rate and a counter-productive reaction that happens when the enzyme binds to oxygen instead of CO2. Algae, however, have a special organelle called pyrenoid that helps Rubisco capture CO2 more efficiently. Whereas most plants need to express high amounts of Rubisco to capture enough CO2 to grow, the pyrenoid supplies Rubisco with concentrated amounts of CO2 to improve the enzyme’s CO2 capturing activity. If a pyrenoid could be genetically engineered into crops, it could be possible for the plants to capture the same amount of CO2 with less Rubisco, thereby helping them grow with fewer resources. However, this advancement requires understanding the functional roles of proteins involved in building a pyrenoid.
In this episode of The Highlights, we're joined by Talmo Pereira, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Neuroscience. Pereira holds a Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellowship, one of the highest graduate honors given by the University. We discuss the ups and downs of grad school and how the software he is developing, Social LEAP Estimates Animal Poses (SLEAP), is working to unite neuroscience, ecology, and computer science.
This episode of The Highlights was produced under the 145th Managing Board of the Daily Princetonian in partnership with Princeton Insights. Talmo Pereira is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Neuroscience. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written/Hosted by Thiago Tarraf Varella GS and Andy Jones GS.
In October 2017, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a call for women who had been sexually harassed to reply to her post saying “Me too”, aiming to give the public a sense of how pervasive the experience of sexual harassment is. This ignited the Me Too movement as we know it. However, ten years earlier, social activist Tarana Burke had already started using the phrase on her Myspace page to promote empowerment among women of color who had been sexually abused. Milano did later credit Burke with coining the phrase, but the fact that it took a White woman to bring national attention to a social movement spearheaded by a Black woman is telling.