Two published papers, zebrafish, and the inner ear

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(From left) Jeff Head, Jessica Planamento, Brian Piatrowski, and Neil Krulewitz, and Associate Professor of Biology Jason Meyers, pose for a photo in June 2012 during the 10th Annual International Conference on Zebrafish Development and Genetics in Madison, Wis. The students were there to present their individual research projects. Their work was part of a larger effort that—a year later—resulted in two published articles."

Jeff Head ’12, Jessica Planamento ’12, Brian Piotrowski, Neil Krulewitz ’12, and Associate Professor of Biology Jason Meyers (from left) attend last year’s International Conference on Zebrafish Development and Genetics in Madison, Wis. Their work was part of a larger effort that — a year later — resulted in two published articles.

Colgate students working with professor Jason Meyers for the past four years have been searching for the answer to why stem cells in certain parts of zebrafish, the same fish you might find at a local aquarium shop, regenerate when their sensory cells are damaged.

Because similar human cells do not regenerate, and their loss leads to permanent deafness, this work has implications for trying to understand how scientists might some day be able to promote regeneration in humans, Meyers said.

In July, Meyers and his students, Jeffery Head ‘12, Leah Gacioch ‘08, and Matthew Pennisi ‘09, published their findings in Developmental Dynamics, a respected scientific journal. That research focused on the lateral line sensory system in zebrafish.

In June, additional work by Meyers and Jessica Planamento ‘12, Pierson Ebrom ‘10, and Neil Krulewitz ‘12 was published in the scientific journal Developmental Biology.

This second article—also four years in the making—explored the role that an enzyme called sulfatase 1 had on the development of zebrafish. Meyers said humans and zebrafish share many biological traits, making the freshwater fish a common model for research on finding cures for diseases and developmental defects.

Meyers, co-author of 14 journal articles dating back to his days as an undergraduate, said he enjoys conducting real-world research with his students.

“I have been really excited to share the same opportunities and excitement about research that got me started on my scientific career,” Meyers said.

Meyers said he’s proud of the work his students did on the two recent articles, and he’s excited about some of the implications. The study on the lateral line showed that one particular signaling pathway was able to stimulate the related stem cells to divide too many times, Meyers said.

The result was sensory organs that were much larger than normal, and had an excessive number of sensory cells. It suggests that this pathway is a critical regulator of stem cell divisions and may be one of the gatekeepers that maintains appropriate cell numbers, Meyers said.

“This has implications for trying to understand why the cells in our inner ears do not regenerate,” Meyers said.

Krulewitz ‘12 said he performed research on cell signaling for the paper on sulfatase 1. Students worked on different parts of the study, spending an average of 10 hours per week in the lab.

Krulewitz, who is now studying medicine at the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, said this is the first time his work has been published.

“It was certainly an exciting process doing the research,” he said. “It was rewarding seeing your hard efforts manifest in a journal.”

Meyers said he and current Colgate students have begun follow-up work on both articles. He recently received a grant from the National Organization of Hearing Research to expand the lateral line work.