Symposium for the Life Sciences

On October 23, 2013 by Grad Forum

biology_symposium_thumbnail_0The Dartmouth Symposium for the Life Sciences was held on Tuesday, October 8. This year’s theme was Dynamic Cellular Architecture: The Cytoskeleton in Form and Function.

The symposium was well-attended, with approximately 250 attendees from Dartmouth, as well as 10-20 from other institutions from around New England and the country. Speakers at the event included: Henry Higgs, Dartmouth biochemistry professor; Elizabeth Smith, Dartmouth professor and chair of Biological Sciences; Michael Rosen from UT Southwestern Medical Center and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Rong Li from the University of Kansas School of Medicine; Erika Holzbaur from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine; and Larry Goldstein from the University of San Diego School of Medicine.

Professor Elizabeth Smith presents at the symposium.

Professor Elizabeth Smith presents at the symposium.

Relating to the symposium’s theme, some might ask: But what is the cytoskeleton? The cytoskeleton is comprised of polymers of specific cellular proteins (there are two main types) whose role is similar to the scaffolding role of the human skeleton. When asked to explain the importance of the cytoskeleton to a general audience, Professor Higgs explained, “Imagine if a city (say the isle of Manhattan) had to move around and eat other things (say Staten Island), but that daily life had to continue pretty much normally while it did that.  All the buildings, roads, sidewalks and people had to continuously dissolve and re-form in a new place as the city moved. The cytoskeleton both provides many of the moveable structures and actually supplies the power to move the city (cell) in the first place.”

“From basic cells to neurons, the speakers demonstrated, using top-of-the-line techniques (from biophysical modeling to live cell imaging of neurons), the complexities involved in the dynamic cytoskeleton. Clarifying the mechanisms of dynamic cellular architecture will help in our understanding of several diseases that all have roots in improper regulation or manipulation of the cytoskeleton (things like Alzheimer’s, kidney disorders, and several neuronal diseases),” observed biochemistry graduate student Pinar Gurel.

The international community agrees with Gurel about the impact of cytoskeleton-based research. Work presented at the symposium has recently been published in top-tier science journals. Funding for the event was provided by the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, the Dean of the Faculty Office, and the New Hampshire Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (NH-INBRE).

by Jeanine Amacher

photo of Professor Smith by Jeanine Amacher


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