Why I use planaria in my research

Life has a way of surprising you.  If you had asked me ten years ago what type of research I’d be doing now I would probably have said something like biochemistry, which is what I was doing at the time.

If you have never read my blog (in that case, where have you been?), I use flatworms, specifically planarians in my research. These are very interesting critters. I basically use them as animal models in pharmacology due to multiple advantages, but this is a story for some other time.

I knew very little about planarians, as much as any Bio major that has never worked with them would know. I was aware of their regeneration capacities, but not much else.

In 2001 I started my PhD work with Prof. George P. Hess, Cornell University, with a project on the biochemical pharmacology of neurotransmitter transporters. I was in an interesting situation, as I was the “resident biologist” in the research group of a hard-core physical chemist/biochemist! You see, physical chemists and biochemists (God bless them) usually do not tend to think very highly of biology. Too many moving parts, I guess…(:-)…

I was running a reference search circa 2003-2004 and I found a paper from 2001 published in the European Journal of Pharmacology (EJP). This paper described some aspects of behavioral pharmacology using planarians.  I thought that it was pretty cool! I went to George very excited and told him that we should try to use planarians to test some of the compounds that we were working on from a biochemical point of view. Well, George was standing up. At about 6’4″ he easily towered over me. He said something like: “Well, when you have your own laboratory, you can play with them”. Guess what? That is exactly what I did! Incidentally, I try to remind him of this story every chance I get (I know, I’m a meanie). In all fairness, he was right, of course. At that time, if I’d started a project from scratch it would have finished my degree much later. Also, because of it, I was able to take the project with me as a new Assistant Professor. Since then, I have published several papers on planarian pharmacology, my latest one as a coauthor with the researcher who published the 2001 EJP paper!

I feel blessed (or very lucky, depending on your philosophical stance) that I had an advisor who did a great job. Moreover, he did it with my best interests in mind. I’d like to think that I am following his example when I train one of my own research students. Thank you, George.

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  1. For some reason, this is the first time I have read this blog entry. The reader can be assured that Dr. Baldman has done a good job keeping a certain research student on a relatively narrow path toward an MS in Biology. This Masters student wanted to start new projects every time she read a journal article and when an unsuspecting individual asked, “What is your concentration?” She would reply, “I love everything, I’m a dilution.” Officially, she was the second biggest pain in the backside but, in reality, she was, be far, the biggest pain in the butt but, because of the dilligence of a good advisor, said over-eager student has thesis in hand and ready to be signed.

    Thank you!

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