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  SPRING 2016

   Society for Developmental Biology

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Developmental biology at the 4th USA Science & Engineering Festival

By Marsha Lucas

Developing zebrafish, Xenopus, and Arabidopsis were highlights of the Society for Developmental Biology exhibit at the 4th USA Science & Engineering Festival held April 15-17, 2016 in Washington, DC. More than 365,000 people attended the biennial festival with nearly 630 exhibitors from government, industry, academia, and professional societies.

Steven Farber (left) showing the zebrafish

SDB partnered with BioEYES and the Carnegie Institution for Science to bring developing zebrafish embryos to the festival. Steven Farber of the Carnegie Institution for Science and co-creator of BioEYES shared how scientists study zebrafish development as a model for human development and diseases. Visitors learned how to distinguish male and female adult fish, observed cleavage through larval stages of development, and visualized the beating heart and circulating red blood cells.

Sally Moody helping with Xenopus

Sally Moody of George Washington University brought Xenopus embryos and tadpoles to the festival. Visitors were able to observe changes over the first few weeks of development, visualize the beating heart, and watch tadpoles swimming around in their dish. Many were surprised by how small and transparent the Xenopus tadpoles were compared to the much larger and opaque tadpoles they see in their neighborhood ponds.

Child viewing an Arabidopsis flower

The third exhibit focused on the diversity of Brassica oleracea and how changes in developmental genes are what give broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale their phenotypic variation. Attendees learned that a mutation in the CAULIFLOWER gene—originally identified in Arabidopsis—is what gives broccoli and cauliflower its appearance. Zhongchi Liu of the University of Maryland provided Arabidopsis plants for them to visualize wildtype flowers and cauliflower mutants which fail to make flowers.  Volunteers emphasized the connection between research on model plants like Arabidopsis and its relevance to agriculture and the foods that we eat. This exercise was part of the Evolution Thought Trail—a group of ten exhibitors with evolution themed exhibits across multiple scientific disciplines.

The enthusiastic participation of some forty-six volunteers over the three-day event made SDB’s exhibit a complete success. Graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members traveled from DC, Maryland, Virginia, and even Massachusetts to help out. Additionally, BioEYES staff, local teachers and middle school and high school students joyfully shared the beauty of developmental biology with the public.

Outreach activities like this raise public awareness about science’s contributions to improving our daily life, making new discoveries, and improving the country’s economy. As the festival’s founder, Larry Bock (recipient of SDB 2012 Viktor Hamburger Outstanding Educator Prize) put it: It is time for us to celebrate science and scientists as we do with sports and media celebrities. And this is such a celebration!