Campus: CSU Long Beach -- February 22, 2002

Cal State Long Beach Researchers Receive NSF Grant for Computer-Guided Microscope Imaging System

A psychologist studying birds and a biologist examining the formation of butterfly sperm may not appear to have much in common, but their research may have implications in better understanding human cellular formation.

For these reasons, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a $98,492 joint grant to California State University, Long Beach Professors Diane W. Lee and Dessie L. Underwood to provide the university with a computer-assisted microscopy imaging system.

The grant came from NSF's Major Research Instrumentation award program, which funds the purchase of major scientific or engineering research equipment.

The new imaging system includes a top-of-the-line optical microscope with a programmable stage that can move tissue in a very precise manner. It also attaches to a computer and video or digital camera that can record the images. Software enables faculty and students to examine tissue in three dimensions, revealing aspects often hidden when viewed with conventional microscopes. The system also allows a researcher to apply fluorescent tags that can, for example, show newly born cells.

Both faculty and students will have the opportunity to use the system and its resulting images for research as well as teaching applications.

Lee is a professor of psychology who specializes in the processes of learning and memory. Her current research involves birds.

"We're investigating neurogenesis-the birth of new neurons-and with this imaging system, we can take a look at precisely where these new cells are born, where they may migrate, and how many there are," Lee explained. "With this new system, we can tell the distance from where they were formed and where they migrated. We can also determine the size of the brain region in which they are found."

Furthermore, she said, "The real key here, aside from the research potential, is that we can digitize all these images of the tissue and form an image database. We can have a 3D rendering of a 3D structure. We have the system so that anyone interested-students, principle investigators and other researchers-can do hands-on research using the equipment and once they're finished, they can digitize their work and share it with whomever might be interested." She hopes to eventually make the material available on the Internet.

Underwood, a professor of biological science, has a different research goal. "I work on a butterfly that's native to Mexico and one of things I study is what the chromosomes do during gamete formation." Gametes are reproductive cells such as sperm or eggs.

"Normally when a sperm or an egg are made, the number of chromosomes have to split in half, and normally that occurs without fail," she continued. "When there are problems in that process in humans, various genetic diseases can occur, such as Down Syndrome," said Underwood.
"It's very difficult to study these things in humans because it's a rare event. What this butterfly exhibits in its gamete formation are very strange abnormalities that look very similar to the same kinds of abnormalities that occur in humans. This is a potential model system for studying why chromosomes behave like that," she added. Because DNA has common characteristics across species, studying butterfly chromosomes can be extrapolated to human DNA.

Underwood's work in this area has drawn international attention. "Dr. Niels Tommerup, in the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of Copenhagen, is a leading European researcher in human genetic diseases, specifically those resulting from chromosome segregation abnormalities. I have been collaborating with Dr. Tommerup for only one year and we currently have a grant proposal under review with NSF," she said. "He is very excited about the prospects of using the species of butterfly that I study as a model organism for furthering our understanding of the mechanisms that lead to the failure of chromosomes to segregate properly."

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