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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 18:42 EDT

Gifts From the Sea

June 17, 2005

WOODS HOLE, MA – It’s annual migration time on Cape Cod again, the time of year when Woods Hole squid arrive by the tens of thousands. It’s a sign of spring to the fishermen who make a living in this important New England fishery. But here at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), it triggers an influx of hundreds of scientists and students from around the world, who return here faithfully every summer to study the squid and other marine organisms.

Sea creatures, it turns out, have been at the center of numerous medical research breakthroughs, and the MBL has been a center for this kind of work for over a century. The laboratory’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean; its expertise in collecting and maintaining marine creatures for study; and its casual, collaborative environment are key reasons scientists return each year.

During a typical MBL summer, the year-round population swells from 275 to over a thousand. Scientists from more than 133 universities and institutions in more than a dozen countries make the MBL their summer research headquarters each year.

U.S. and foreign students seeking intense, specialized science courses taught by top researchers, flock here, too””to participate in advanced-level offerings in numerous subjects, including cell physiology, neurobiology, and embryology.

Why study marine creatures? In short, they are simple versions of more complex organisms. By studying life processes in marine models, MBL scientists and students learn how the same events occur in the human body . . . and how they go awry when disease strikes.

Over the years, marine models have been instrumental in the MBL’s advancement of the world’s understanding of cancer, neurological disorders, vision, immunology, and even in vitro fertilization.

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