Schmitt Shoots!!

Eleanor Maine is intrigued by the nuts and bolts of living organisms. As a developmental biologist, she investigates how individual cells differentiate into special cell types to form the basic building blocks of life. “I believe Aristotle was the first known developmental biologist,” Maine says, “because he was the first one to compare embryonic development in different animal species.”
      Maine studied developmental biology throughout her academic career, earning a bachelor’s degree at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and a doctorate at Princeton. She then went on to postdoctoral work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A member of the SU biology faculty since 1990, she focuses her research on the genetic makeup of a tiny soil worm known as Caenorhabditis elegans, to try to determine how trigger mechanisms stimulate cell growth. “In the last 20 years scientists have intensified their efforts to interpret the biochemistry of living beings through genetic research,” Maine says. “My basic research on the simple C. elegans is helping to construct a road map for higher organisms.”
      Maine says C. elegans is the ideal subject for molecular and genetic analysis because it’s easy to raise, has a three-day life cycle, and has a relatively small number of cells and genes. And it’s transparent, so all of its individual cells can be viewed through the lens of a microscope without dissection. “Because C. elegans is such a primitive creature, it’s easy to remove targeted cells with a laser to see what effect that has on activating or deactivating cell growth,” Maine says. “Identifying the specific genes that regulate cell development in C. elegans may The day point the way for other scientists to create new medical treatments for humans, because both types of organisms have similar signaling pathways.”
      In addition to being a dedicated researcher, Maine is devoted to teaching the next generation of developmental biologists. She uses small group discussions and the latest educational technology to make her classroom dynamic and interactive. “I’m trying to get away from dusty overheads and static drawings on the chalkboard,” she says. “I incorporate videos with slow-motion animation and time-lapse photography into my lectures to convey what vital biological processes are all about.”
      Undergraduate and graduate students work with Maine in her Lyman Hall laboratory. She says many female students seek to work in her laboratory because they prefer to study with a woman professor. “There’s still a subtle bias against women scientists,” she says. “Part of my role is to mentor and encourage young women to go into the field of developmental biology. My mentor at the University of Wisconsin was a woman, and it really does make a difference.”
      Along with tending to her professional responsibilities, Maine also finds time to care for her 2-year-old son, Daniel, through a unique arrangement with her husband, Doug Frank, who is an ecologist on the SU biology department faculty. Although each of them technically holds a full-time faculty position, they are both on half-time academic leave, carrying half the standard teaching load and committee assignments. “When we adopted Daniel from Cambodia we decided we wanted to enjoy as much time with him as possible while he was still young,” Maine says. “Doug and I stagger our schedules so we can maximize the time we spend with him.”
      Maine says this work arrangement gives her the flexibility she needs to continue to be a major data gatherer in her laboratory while still spending ample quality time with her son. “You can be a great scientist and not spend every waking moment thinking about your research,” she says. “What matters most is what you do with the time you have—I’ve become very efficient.”

—Christine Yackel

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