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6/6/96

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New labs, aquarium dedicated at Hopkins Marine Station

STANFORD -- Since its founding in 1892, Hopkins Marine Station has been a beacon to world-renowned biologists and home to some of Stanford's most revered teachers. But by the mid-1970s, an air of neglect hung over the little cluster of buildings on their rocky headland. The first marine laboratory on the Pacific Coast seemed headed for a genteel version of the obsolescence haunting nearby Cannery Row. A blue-ribbon committee recommended that Stanford take action to rescue its seaside laboratory from fading away.

Now Cannery Row bustles with visitors drawn to shops, restaurants and the innovative Monterey Bay Aquarium. And next door, Hopkins director Dennis Powers is ready to proclaim the renovated station "the best marine research facility for its size in the world."

Powers, the Harold A. Miller Professor of Marine Biology, and his predecessor, the late Colin Pittendrigh, have presided over a 20-year program of building and renovation at the marine station, coupled with recruitment of a faculty of highly respected scientists.

In a dedication ceremony May 10, the newest jewel in the Hopkins crown officially opened: the DeNault Family Research Building, which houses a small aquarium (one of three on the Hopkins campus) and research laboratories for two Hopkins scientists.

Hopkins has been transformed to a miniature campus, a blend of sandstone-and-tile buildings with wooden marine warehouses in the style of the historic Monterey Boat Works ­ now a high-tech lecture hall. The renovations include advanced laboratories equipped for studies ranging from molecular and cell biology to simulated wave and wind action. There is a one-of-a-kind study center for live tuna. Library windows overlook otters and whales, and terminals that link Hopkins scholars by high-speed fiber-optic cable to the university's knowledge bases.

The result is not a conventional oceanographic station, Powers emphasized: "We use marine organisms to study basic scientific questions, from biomechanics to neurobiology to transgenic fish to ecology." Hopkins scientists study organisms ranging from algae to whales, at the level of genes, cells, whole animals and ecosystems.

For research, and for an endless source of projects for students, they take advantage of their unique location, with several complex ecosystems right outside their laboratory windows.

Faculty and students also collaborate with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and a half-dozen other marine research facilities that have joined Hopkins in making this region a major center of scientific activity.

Among Hopkins' eight faculty and two active emeriti are two members of the National Academy of Sciences: professor emeritus Daniel Mazia, a specialist in cell biology, and George Somero, who studies how marine organisms adapt to extreme conditions.

Powers studies the evolutionary strategies that organisms use to adapt to their environments. Barbara Block, co-director of the Tuna Research and Conservation Center, studies the physiology of tuna and other nomadic ocean fishes. Mark Denny examines the biomechanics of animals and plants that manage to survive on wave-swept shores. David Epel researches fertilization and how marine organisms repel pollutants. William Gilly and his colleague Stuart Thompson are neurobiologists. Paul Levine uses the symbiotic and parasitic relationships between animals and bacteria to look for the basic mechanisms of disease.

Hopkins faculty, with the aid of lecturer James Watanabe, teach marine and general biology undergraduates during the winter, spring and fall quarters. In spring, the scientists open their laboratories to undergraduates for a chance to do hands-on science in an intensive research course. Retired lecturer Chuck Baxter, an authority on Pacific intertidal zones, also works with students on spring research projects.

Somero and Gilly both have laboratories in the new DeNault building. It was built with $3 million in donations from the National Science Foundation and from three families who have been longtime supporters of Stanford and of the marine station: John and Jean DeNault of Los Angeles; the late David A. Packard and the Packard Foundation of Palo Alto, Calif.; and the family of the late Mr. and Mrs. Harold A. Miller of Portland, Ore.

For Gilly, the unique combination of laboratory and research aquarium provides a perk not available to many neurobiologists.

He has worked with squid for more than 20 years, because their giant nerve cells provide an excellent way to study how neurons in all animals ­ including humans ­ fire an electrical signal.

Now he and his students can raise squid from hatchlings and document how behavior influences the development of their neurons. He already has shown that it takes more than genes to develop a functioning nervous system - it takes life experience. Unless baby squid chase after fast-moving live prey when they are small, they don't develop the coordination among neurons that lets them catch dinner ­ and escape from becoming dinner ­ when they are adults.

In the new research building, Gilly has set up a special room with controlled lighting and electronics that will allow him to videotape the behavior of live squid. "We'll be able to do living animal experiments under controlled conditions, plus cellular and molecular studies," Gilly says. "It's a dream come true."

-jb-

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