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Caltech Associates participate in first Biology Bootcamp

10-28-2008 02:40 PM CET | Science & Education

Press release from: Caltech Y

The Biology Bootcamp participants get an up-close look at the zebrafish enclosures with the help of several postdoctoral scholars

The Biology Bootcamp participants get an up-close look at the zebrafish enclosures with the help of several postdoctoral scholars

Pasadena, Calif.—Two distinguished biologists took 20 members of the Caltech Associates President’s Circle on a behind-the-scenes tour of their laboratories at Caltech's Beckman Institute. Marianne Bronner-Fraser, the Albert Billings Ruddock Professor of Biology, and Scott E. Fraser, the Anna L. Rosen Professor of Biology and professor of bioengineering, showed the Associates the scientific tools they use to ask questions about evolution, discover how genes control development, and find genes that may cause disease.

The two faculty members first related the history of DNA and genomics, a history rich with several discoveries made at Caltech. They offered a glimpse of new projects, too, such as the Caltech Center of Excellence in Genomic Science (CEGS). Started in 2006 with an $18 million grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute, CEGS uses approaches and equipment invented at Caltech to attempt to image and mutate every developmentally important gene in vertebrates, with the goal of capturing enough data to create a “digital fish” or a “digital bird.”

The Associates enjoyed a “hands on” research experience during the first lab tour, learning how DNA technology can be used to answer a detective question. In this case the mystery was to determine whether a salmon was farm-raised or wild. Postdoctoral researchers Luca Caneparo and Tatjana Sauka-Spengler showed them how to harvest DNA, replicate it using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine, purify and sequence the DNA fragments, and search the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s database to discover if their salmon came from a wild subspecies.

In the second laboratory, postdocs Tatiana Hochgreb, Ankur Saxena, and Julien Vermot showed visitors that zebrafish are ideal for the study of embryonic development due to their small size and optical clarity. They presented the aquariums used to raise large numbers of zebrafish and helped guests examine zebrafish embryos under microscopes. They demonstrated lab techniques and guided Associate Eric Garen (BS ’68) with an injection of fluorescent dye into a fertilized egg, a technique used to help highlight aspects of embryonic development.

“The Biology Bootcamp was a remarkable experience for Nancy and me,” said Garen, a Caltech alumnus. “Especially in terms of enhancing our understanding of some basic aspects of how the genome functions, the current research projects being carried out by [the Frasers] and other Caltech researchers to increase our detailed understanding of the exact mechanisms by which the genome actually functions, and the research methodologies they are using to tease out that new understanding. But most of all, I came away with a renewed sense of wonder at the complexity of life, and the almost unimaginable amount of information contained in the 25-30,000 genes we carry. As a computer scientist, the efficiency of that code has me in awe!”

When asked why he chose to attend, Garen said, “We’ve previously attended Associates events by both Marianne and Scott and knew how exciting their research was, as well as how proficient they were at communicating the incredibly complex topics of their research in a way that is understandable and interesting to audiences both with and without a scientific background. And sure enough, they again achieved that elusive goal.”

For more information about the President’s Circle and events with the Associates please visit or contact the Associates at 626-395-3919.

About the Associates: Founded in 1926, the Associates is a support organization for the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) with over 2,300 members throughout the United States and abroad - a diverse cross section of members of the local & business community, Caltech alumni and faculty, and philanthropists.

The Associates of the
California Institute of Technology
M/C 5-32
1200 E. California Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91125
Contact: Julia J. Cody
(626) 395-2926

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