Every Wednesday Night, 50 Times a Year 7:00 p.m. in Room 1111, Genetics/Biotech Center, 425 Henry Mall
December 4 - Madison’s Remarkable Experiment in Scientific Education: Henry Lardy and the Institute for Enzyme Research
Dave Nelson, Biochemistry
The Institute for Enzyme Research was set up in Madison in 1948 as a unique place for post-doctoral training in enzymology. Funded by the State and the Rockefeller Foundation, it was intended to replace the European laboratories like the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes in Germany, which were destroyed during WWII. Conrad Elvehjem and Van Potter were the prime movers, and David Green and Henry Lardy were the first professors appointed at the Enzyme Institute. Both made spectacular contributions in the field of enzymology during long careers at the Institute.
Lardy’s scientific career began with his undergraduate studies in agriculture at the South Dakota State College (now University), where he shared a mentor with two other men destined for great careers at Wisconsin: Robert H. Burris and Van R. Potter. As a graduate student at the UW with Paul Phillips in the Department of Agricultural Chemistry (now Biochemistry) Lardy discovered a simple way to preserve bull sperm, which transformed the dairy industry and earned for him, forty years later, the Wolf Foundation Prize in Agriculture, often compared with the Nobel Prizes in the other sciences.
Lardy went on to make very important contributions in a variety of biochemical fields as diverse as vitamin function, thyroid hormone action, energy conversions in mitochondria, the site of action of a number of antibiotics, sudden infant death syndrome, obesity and adaptation to the cold. During the last twenty-five years of his research career Lardy took on a completely new challenge, studying the actions and metabolism of the steroid hormone DHEA. He worked in his laboratory with his own hands until only a few weeks before his death in 2010. He left a legacy of superb science, described in well over 500 papers. He also trained 60 graduate students and 100 post-doctoral fellows who went on to occupy chairs of biochemistry all over the world. The Enzyme Institute did not survive him; it closed formally in 1999, and fully in 2012, ending a remarkable experiment in biochemical education.
December 11- Exploring the molecular nature of electric organs in the strong-voltage electric eel
Lindsay Traeger, Biochemistry
The electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) is a fresh water fish from South America, and the only species within the genus Electrophorus. Reaching up to 8 feet in length, E. electricus can generate both weak (mV) and strong (600 volts) using the three electric organs encompassing the majority of the tail of the fish. These electric organs are made up of electrocytes, a cell type that is developmentally differentiated from myocytes in a process that remains elusive.
Interestingly, electric organs have evolved at least six times in independent lineages. Over 700 species of electric fish have been identified; the vast majority of these fish are capable of producing only weak electric discharges that are used for navigation and communication. E. electricus is unique among electric fishes in the order Gymnotiform (and other, nonrelated electric fishes) as it has three electric organs, and can produce both weak and strong-voltage electric organ discharges.
It has become a focus of our lab to molecularly characterize electrocytes for the first time. To do this, we have assembled a draft genome of E. electricus, and performed gene expression analysis (RNA sequencing) on eight E. electricus tissues (including skeletal muscle and the three electric organs). In addition, we have performed RNA sequencing of skeletal muscle and electric organ tissue in two other Gymnotiform fishes, and one Mormyriform fish, which has an independently-evolved electric organ. We have identified and functionally characterized genes that are uniquely expressed in electrocytes. In addition, we have found E. electricus genes that have experienced an increased rate of evolution. Our work will help further understand the evolution of complex traits, and has potential long-term implications in the development of biobatteries and in bioenergy.
December 18- Tiny, Smelly and Old – What I Learned About Teaching Science by Making an Astrobiology Exhibit
Brooke Norsted, UW-Madison Geology Museum
At the UW Geology Museum my primary responsibilities include coordinating our outreach programs and managing the collections; however, the blessing and curse of working in a small museum is that there are always other things on your plate. These extras have expanded my knowledge base (e.g. identifying “meteorites” and “dinosaur eggs”), allowed me to practice my custodial skills (e.g. changing lightbulbs on a 12’ ladder and cleaning nose prints off the gem case) and given me excuses to travel (e.g. to dig up dinosaurs in Wyoming or to deliver a talk in Pennsylvania).
Many of science's big unanswered questions are tied to astrobiology - are we alone? where did we come from? Brooke will highlight the challenges and rewards of creating the newly-opened astrobiology exhibit at the UW Geology Museum. Brooke will soon be celebrating a decade of being the Assistant Director of the UW Geology Museum where she is responsible for the museum’s outreach programs, on and off campus. Brooke earned geology degrees from Gustavus Adolphus and UW Madison.
Wednesday Nite @ the Lab is organized by the Wisconsin Alumni Association, Science Alliance @ UW-Madison and by BioTrek, the outreach program of the Biotechnology Center at UW-Madison/Extension.