Because Misaki Foster and I have been friends since we met last fall, I was bound to know something about her research before the chalk talk. While I knew she was working on mitosis in caterpillars, I didn’t fully understand her research until her chalk talk. I’ve always seen her passion for science, but to see her in action giving her talk blew me away! In addition to her passion and effective explanations, Misaki’s research in the Nijhout lab caught my attention.
When she said she worked with imaginal discs, I became even more excited about her research. I had seen them under the microscope in some of my first larval fly dissections, and they caught my attention as the spiral structures fluoresced red. In fact, I hadn’t heard of them before that moment when I asked Dr. Sherwood what they were. However, when Misaki mentioned that she was dissecting imaginal discs, I put together that these are a common structure among larval insects. Imaginal discs are small structures that begin inside the larva and emerge as a part of metamorphosis to become external structures. In fruit flies, there are multiple imaginal discs that will transform into the eye/ antennae, the legs, the wings, and more. Misaki studies the discs in caterpillars that will later become butterfly wings!
She explained how her lab studies development from the imaginal disc to the wing, asking the question, how is organismal growth regulated? To answer this question, she is measuring how much mitosis is happening in the wing at a given stage of larval development! While it makes sense that mitosis would directly relate to development, it’s something I had never thought about in that way. Once she dissects, fixes, and dyes the disc, she looks at it under a microscope to score each instance of mitosis. Misaki uses the chromosome positioning to identify cells in which mitosis is occurring, watching out for the different phases, like anaphase. Once she has these numbers, she puts them into a program that identifies hotspot regions of mitosis, and this is how they will find areas that are growing the most during different stages! The idea of mapping out mitosis is a new concept for me, but it’s one I find intriguing.
While Misaki’s project introduced me to new concepts, her explanations were logical and her presentation was amazing. As someone who uses flies as model organisms and sees the value of understanding larval development, I find Misaki’s project exciting and can’t wait to see where it leads!