December 9, 2020

University Announces Strengthened Partnership with Marine Biological Laboratory

MBL Collector and UChicago Autumn Quarter students sorting through sea urchins and other marine organisms brought up by Gemma’s trawl.

Courtesy of Marine Biological Laboratory

Plans to formally strengthen the University’s partnership with the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) were announced by Provost Ka Yee C. Lee in a message sent to faculty and graduate students on November 23. The strengthened partnership seeks to “ensure our faculty and students are able to maximize research and teaching collaborations.”

The MBL is a laboratory located in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where research is conducted in molecular biology, environmental conservation, and many more subfields through the use of advanced imaging and other techniques. It was founded in 1888 and formally made a University affiliate in 2013.

The recent initiative to strengthen this affiliation was spearheaded by Neil Shubin, Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy. Shubin is known for his 2004 discovery of Tiktaalik roseae, a fossil fish with amphibian traits like its four legs which is thought to be a precursor to tetrapods, and his popular television series and book Your Inner Fish.

Shubin said that the strengthened partnership would lead to new opportunities for students and faculty. “We can offer our students new kinds of education in advanced imaging, new kinds of courses in embryology, courses in the microbiome. It gives us a footprint in education and research that we wouldn’t have just based in Hyde Park alone,” he said. “I think that’s really important, because it gives our students an ability to do a deep dive, from week-long experiences [to] quarter-long experiences in cutting-edge science, which is what the MBL has been doing for over a century.”

Shubin explained that these deep-dive experiences would add to scientific learning through an intense, one-on-one environment where students are advised by faculty and research mentors. In the future, he hopes to offer these programs to even more interested undergraduates. “We aspire to a program where any college student who is concentrating in biology can do a quarter or a course at the MBL during their time at the University of Chicago.”    

Other exciting initiatives are underway at the MBL as well, according to Shubin. They involve studying the process of regeneration, ecosystem science, and using advanced imaging to better understand the function of cells and tissues.

Shubin reflected on how he would approach the opportunities given by the UChicago-MBL partnership. “I’d feel like a kid in the candy store,” he said. “All these opportunities at my fingertips. To have the diverse courses we have in the Hyde Park campus, but then also to have these deep-dive, intense courses, which are research-intensive, available in a residential setting on the water in Cape Cod, I mean that’s just a fabulous opportunity.”