Category: STEM Education

Research Organism Superheroes: Hawaiian Bobtail Squid

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A Hawaiian bobtail squid swimming in front of a submerged hand, appearing as if to fit into the palm of the hand.
This adult Hawaiian bobtail squid swimming in front of a submerged hand illustrates its small size. Credit: The labs of Margaret J. McFall-Ngai, Carnegie Institution for Science/California Institute of Technology, and Edward G. Ruby, California Institute of Technology.

The Hawaiian bobtail squid (Euprymna scolopes) is only about as big as a golf ball, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in its superpower—an invisibility cloak to be exact. Thanks to its symbiotic relationship with the bioluminescent bacteria Vibrio fischeri, it’s able to seemingly disappear from its predators when swimming at night.  

These super-squid live in the shallow coastal waters in the Pacific, like those around the Hawaiian Islands. They’re nocturnal, so they hunt their prey—small shrimp and other crustaceans—at night and hide, often by burying themselves in the sand, during the day while they rest. Although Hawaiian bobtail squid live their short 3-10 month lives around one another, they generally only interact for breeding, and even then, they only reproduce once in their lifetimes and die soon after reproduction.

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Quiz: Do You Know Your Immune System?

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This post is part of a miniseries on the immune system. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series that you may have missed.
Cartoon microbes with smiley faces forming the shape of a question mark.
Credit: NIGMS.

Throughout our immunology miniseries, we introduced the immune system and its many functions and components. Additionally, we highlighted how vaccines train your immune system, how the system can go awry, and how NIGMS-supported researchers are studying immunology and infectious diseases. Put your knowledge about the immune system to the test by taking the quiz below.

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Broadening Opportunities for Students in STEM at Brown University and Beyond

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A headshot of Dr. Andrew G. Campbell.
Credit: Courtesy of Brown University.

Andrew G. Campbell, Ph.D., a professor of medical science at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and previous dean of the graduate school, is passionate about researching understudied diseases and helping students reach their full potential.

Dr. Campbell’s lab has studied the single-cell organism Trypanosoma brucei (T. brucei), a parasite transmitted through the bite of the tsetse fly, which is only found in specific regions of Africa. In humans, T. brucei causes African Trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness. Symptoms of this illness include headache, weakness, tiredness, and altered sleep schedules; and if left untreated, it can be fatal. Dr. Campbell studies the function of certain enzymes found in T. brucei and other infectious agents, like hepatitis B virus and HIV, with the hope that they can serve as targets for new treatments for diseases.

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Putting West Virginia Students on the Path to Scientific Careers

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Logos of the West Virginia HSTA and WV-INBRE programs. HSTA’s logo shows a colorful icon image of the human body’s muscular system, with a state icon of West Virginia off to the left. INBRE’s logo shows a double helix overtop a state icon of West Virginia.
Credit: NIGMS.

Two NIGMS-funded programs are teaming up to shape the future of science and technology in West Virginia (WV). One engages high school students in science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine (STEM+M); introduces them to research; and provides direct access to college through tuition waivers. In the other program, undergraduate students are paired with a researcher at their institution for a paid internship—an important step toward a career in science.

The Health Sciences & Technology Academy

“We liken our students to rosebuds. As they grow, you see them blossom into self-confident leaders,” says Catherine Morton, Ed.D., director of the Health Sciences & Technology Academy (HSTA) in West Virginia. This mentoring program is supported in part by an NIGMS Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA).

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Research Organism Superheroes: Fruit Flies

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A fruit fly on a yellow fruit.
Credit: iStock.

Those pesky little bugs flying around the overripe bananas in your kitchen may hold the key to understanding something new about how our bodies work. That’s right, the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) is a widely used research organism in genetics because of its superpower of reproducing quickly with similar genes to people.

Researchers have been studying fruit flies for over a century for many reasons. First, they’re easy to please—just keep them at room temperature and feed them corn meal, sugar, and yeast (or those bananas on your counter!). Second, they reproduce more quickly and have shorter life cycles than larger organisms. A female can lay up to a hundred eggs in a day, and those eggs develop into mature adult flies within 10 to 12 days. A third reason is the simplicity of the fruit fly’s genome, which only has four pairs of chromosomes compared to the 23 in humans. And on a logistical note, the male and female flies are easy to tell apart (genetic studies often require separating males and females, which isn’t an easy feat in all organisms).

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Inspiring the Next Generation of Scientists Through CityLab

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CityLab logo. The name CityLab written over an outline of a city inside an Erlenmeyer flask.
Credit: CityLab.

“Many of the students we work with don’t have access to a laboratory through their local schools. For them, CityLab is their first exposure to a laboratory environment—these are hugely important moments for these kids,” says Carl Franzblau, Ph.D., the founder of CityLab at Boston University (BU). CityLab was established more than 30 years ago as a science education outreach program for precollege students and teachers through a partnership between the Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine and the Wheelock College of Education & Human Development at BU.

“Since our first Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) grant in 1991, our mission has been to inspire students to consider careers in the biomedical sciences and broaden the opportunities that are available to them,” says Carla Romney, D.Sc., the director of research for CityLab. Continuous SEPA funding since 1991 has allowed CityLab to fulfill its mission and provide students with state-of-the-art biotechnology laboratory facilities and curricula.

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Spotlighting SEPA for National STEM Day

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The NIGMS Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program provides opportunities for pre-K-12 students from underserved communities to access STEM educational resources. SEPA grants support innovative, research-based, science education programs, furthering NIGMS’ mission to ensure a strong and diverse biomedical research workforce. SEPA projects generate resources that are mapped to state and national teaching standards for STEM and are rigorously evaluated for effectiveness; most are also available at no cost. These resources include mobile laboratories, interactive health exhibits in museums and science centers, educational resources for students, and professional development for teachers. Projects engage students and encourage them to envision themselves having careers in biomedical research.

To celebrate National STEM Day, we’re taking a look back at some of the SEPA projects we’ve recently featured on the blog, as well as our STEM teaching resources website, which includes several SEPA-funded materials. Check out the snapshots of each of the projects with links to the full articles and the teaching website below.

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Research Organism Superheroes: Tardigrades

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A brown, barrel-shaped body with rolls, eight legs, pointy claws, and a round mouth against a green background.
A 3D rendering of a tardigrade. Credit: iStock.

“Water bear” or “moss piglet”? No matter what you call them, tardigrades have secured the title of cutest invertebrate—at least in our book. They’re tiny creatures, averaging about the size of a grain of salt, so while you can spot them with the naked eye, using a microscope is the best way to see them. They earned their nickname of water bear and their official name (which comes from tardigradus, Latin for “slow walker”) because of the way they lumber slowly and deliberately on short, stubby legs.

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