A CRISPR Lesson

“Why did you want to become a scientist?”

It was an innocent question – I had an innocent answer. It feels almost painful to think about it.


A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to visit St. Stephen’s School in Rome to teach 9th grade biology classes about CRISPR.

I don’t know much about CRISPR, or teaching. So I recruited the lab CRISPR guru Angelo, who was also very excited about this. Together we came up with a lesson plan, hoping to introduce the latest, coolest CRISPR applications and pique the interest of 15-year-olds. We decided on case studies to make sure that everyone was engaged; we chose cases that covered a broader spectrum of applications, from cancer immunotherapy to gene drives…


– Impact. I wanted to cure cancer.

Adhering to Asian stereotypes, my parents “asked” if I would apply to medical school. Short-sighted, I thought- doctors can save maybe a hundred lives, but if I find the cure for some deadly disease, I would be saving millions.

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Sex sells & immigrants steal

The embarrassing fact: sex sells

The brain is hard wired to respond in predictable ways to important environmental stimuli. This was certainly an advantage to our ancestors living off the land, but it can lead to some awkward situations in our modern lives. The large letters plastered over the explicit magazine section that we’ve all seen at airports – SEX SELLS – ring true to us in an embarrassing way. Yes, when it comes to sex our rational thought system has been hijacked and our instincts rule.

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The passing of a pure spirit

Mumna Al Banchaabouchi 1968-2018

Last week we received the sad news of the passing of Mumna Al Banchaabouchi, Head of the Phenotyping Facility at EMBL Rome from 2004 to 2012. The news was painful and left us shaken. Mumna passed away at the untimely age of 49 after a battle with metastatic breast cancer. Her death leaves a dark hole in our hearts – especially for those of us who were not able to share her passage and know her thoughts in those last moments.

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Eating synapses – seeing is believing

After more than five years of heroic work, EMBL Rome PhD student Laetitia Weinhard in the Gross Lab has finally completed her massive imaging study of microglia. Published last week in BioRxiv, the work uses correlated light and electron microscopy (CLEM) as well as time-lapse light sheet imaging to find out whether microglia eat synapse during brain development. Continue reading “Eating synapses – seeing is believing”

Escaping the lab on the Silk Road

This summer I managed to steal away from the lab to fulfill my childhood dream of driving from Europe to India. The idea that a culture so exotic and different than ours is nevertheless part of the same landmass and people like Alexander the Great, Ibn Battuta, and Marco Polo had managed to walk to Asia always held a deep fascination with me. Continue reading “Escaping the lab on the Silk Road”

How to see the world in a new light

Language reflects/affects the way we think and understand the world around us. I want to discuss this in my first ever EMBL Rome blog post- as it is a place unique for being hugely international, and because of a discussion over lunch that now became known (at least to me) as the “cherry discussion”. Continue reading “How to see the world in a new light”

Optomania

Daniel Rossier & Violetta La Franca (Gross Group)

This week our lab did our first successful optogenetics experiment. Postdoctoral fellow Daniel Rossier and Sapienza University Masters student Violetta La Franca (above) have been trying to understand why animals like to do things even if they don’t get rewarded for doing it. It’s the old question of why a cat chases its tail – it just doesn’t make sense according to most neuroscience theories that talk about reward and punishment as the main drivers of behavior. Continue reading “Optomania”