Through the looking glass with biologist Avital Rodal
Meet the Jabberwocky.
It's a hulking microscope housed in its own room in the Rosenstiel Basic Medical Science Research Center. Assistant professor of biology Avital Rodal, whose lab is one of several using the device, gave it its nickname because of its monstrous size. Over the years, she's developed a habit of giving microscopes the names of mystical beasts. Others she's used have been called Smaug ("The Hobbit") and Toothless ("How To Train Your Dragon").
Rodal uses the Jabberwocky to peer inside the motor neurons of fruit fly larvae. She studies what are called nerve growth factors, which travel along nerve fibers to the nucleus carrying messages from muscle tissue. In neurodegenerative illnesses such as ALS and Alzheimer's, a growth factor's messages may not wind up being effectively communicated between neurons, triggering muscle cell dysfunction or death. A better understanding of why this miscommunication happens could lead to new drug treatments. (Click here for more on her research.)
Before Rodal examines her fly larva specimen in the Jabberwocky, she attaches genetic markers or tags to the growth factors she wants to see at work in the cell. The fly larva is alive, so that the cellular processes within it can be watched as they unfold.