MBL’s 2020 Highlights

MBL's 2020 Highlights

By Emily Greenhalgh

From gene-editing squid to Zoom classes and digital learning lessons, 2020 may not have been a typical year for the Marine Biological Laboratory, but it was an exciting one. Dive into some of the most exciting content you may have missed! 


First Gene Knockout in a Cephalopod is Achieved at MBL

A team at the Marine Biological Laboratory achieved the first gene knockout in a cephalopod using the squid Doryteuthis pealeii, an exceptionally important research organism in biology for nearly a century. The milestone study, led by MBL scientists Joshua Rosenthal and Karen Crawford, is reported in the July 30 issue of Current Biology.

The team used CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing to knock out a pigmentation gene in squid embryos, which eliminated pigmentation in the eye and in skin cells (chromatophores) with high efficiency.

With thousands of views on the MBL website and appearing in dozens of media publications, including National Public Radio (NPR) and USA Today, the milestone study was the MBL’s biggest news story of the year.

Read the MBL News Release 


Flamboyant on Special Occasions Only

With a name like the “flamboyant cuttlefish,” you would expect these cephalopods to show their dazzling, colorful displays all the time. But research from the Roger Hanlon Lab at the MBL, found that Metasepia pfefferi save their technicolor display for special occasions only. An explainer video on the study reached thousands of viewers and was the MBL’s most popular video of the year.

Read the MBL News Release


MVP (MBL Virtual Programs) Banner

The MVP was an MVP

Since COVID-19 kept everyone off campus this summer, the MBL Education team worked with course directors to launch the MVP (MBL Virtual Programs) webinar series. This virtual series ran from July 6-17 and included offerings from many of our summer programs including the advanced research training courses and the Logan Science Journalism program. With nearly 12,000 registrants and 6,000 attendees, the event was a big success.

Watch the Course Webinars 


An MBL Tradition Goes Virtual

The Friday Evening Lectures are the quintessential MBL tradition, given each and every summer since our founding in1888. Neither World War I, World War II, nor the flu pandemic of 1918 stopped this tradition and neither did COVID-19. The tradition continued this summer with streamed lectures delivered by notable FEL “alumni” who will help us carry on the legacy of the Friday Evening Lectures.

With more than 1,000 attendees, the July 10 Forbes Lecture featuring Jared Diamond from the University of California drew the largest virtual crowd.

See the 2020 Friday Evening Lectures 


MBL Famouth Forum on WCAIA Partnership on the Airways

For the last 30 years, the Falmouth Forum, presented by the Friends of the MBL, has brought free cultural enrichment to our Cape Cod neighbors. In the wake of COVID-19, MBL partnered with WCAI, our local NPR station, to air the Falmouth Forum on the first Thursday of every month at 9 a.m. ET.

The November 5 talk by Susan Hockfield, author and former president, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, titled “The Age of Living Machines: How Biology Will Build the Next Technology Revolution,” was the most popular day-of broadcast, with more than 7,000 people on the webcast and more listening over the airwaves.

Check out the full Falmouth Forum Lineup


A Snapshot of Science with MBLSciShoots

With students unable to come to the campus to learn, MBL leadership launched a new initiative in the spring to bring science to the students—virtually. The #MBLSciShoots lessons, ranging from local invasive species and horseshoe crab blood to axolotls and octopuses, drew more than 22,000 views across YouTube and Facebook.

A deep dive into the MBL’s cephalopod mariculture program by Bret Grasse, manager of cephalopod operations, was the most popular lesson of the 15 videos.

Explore all the #MBLSciShoots Digital Learning Lessons


Lunch & Learn with MBL Ecosystems

This fall, the MBL Ecosystems Center scientists held a series of lunchtime webinars highlighting environmental issues and challenges facing the 21st century. Inspired by their research, seminars touched on topics covered as part of the Semester in Environmental Science at the MBL, and spanned diverse ecosystems ranging from Arctic tundra to temperate forests, coastal marshes and wetlands to the open ocean, deserts to Cape Cod’s salt ponds.

Take a dive into ecosystems science with Ecosystems Center Director Anne Giblin and Research Scientist Inke Forbrich for the most popular Lunch & Learn webinar of the fall—a talk titled “Sea-level Rise and the Fate of Coastal Salt Marsh Buffers.”

Watch the Webinars


left: course students shows the expression of 8 Hox genes in Drosophila embryos., Right: MBL Director assists student at a microscope

UChicago Autumn Quarter at MBL – Pandemic Style

The MBL leapt at the opportunity to house and educate 12 University of Chicago undergraduates for eight weeks this fall, the first student group in our teaching labs and dorms since COVID-19 emptied the campus in March.

Read more about the UChicago Autumn Quarter


Video by: Danielle Dallis

Flamboyant Cuttlefish Embryos

A relaxing video of small, circulating embryos was our most popular social media post of 2020. This MBL Moment of Mindfulness features flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi) eggs spinning in their incubation device. The recirculator was created by our manager of cephalopod operations, Bret Grasse.

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A very happy new year from all of us at the
Marine Biological Laboratory!