Summer Programs Faculty Focus: "Moving Beyond Genes" with Dr. Craig Albertson

    Posted by Lily Cigale on Feb 26, 2016 1:36:45 PM

    In 2016, Lab, summer

    Dr. Craig Albertson is an Associate professor in the Biology department here at UMass Amherst. The Albertson Lab focuses on the development and evolution of complex morphologies. In other words, How do complex structures and shapes develop from a single-cell embryo? What makes the human hand different from the horse’s hoof, the bat’s wing, or the flipper of a whale? Dr. Albertson is looking for two bright and passionate high school students to join his team and work in his lab alongside faculty and graduate students. 


    Dr. Albertson grew up in Wilmington, Deleware and completed his undergraduate biology degree after transferring from University of Deleware to the University of New Hampshire. He also went on to get his masters and PhD at UNH. Dr. Albertson comes from a family line of dentists and so was assisting a dentist over the summer when he began to recognize the skull as an organ of unique complexity which houses the brain and is most susceptible to congenital disease. An animal's skull has many evolutionary implications and can tell you what an animal does and how it survives, basically what its life is like. In his lab, Dr. Albertson combines the disciplines of functional anatomy and molecular and quantitative  genetics among others to study morphology in bony fishes as an experimental model for understanding the intersection of genes, development, and evolution.  


    If you are passionate and curious about science, working in Dr. Albertson's lab will be a great way for you to gain experience and knowledge and make important connections. When I called Dr. Albertson on the phone to talk about his six-week research intensive pre-college summer program, I asked him what students should expect from an average day in the lab. The answer he gave was a lot more complex than I had expected: "it depends on the day". Dr. Albertson's lab is integrative and combines tools that span multiple disciplines, so day to day work may change. Some days you may find yourself at a computer measuring morphologies and other days you'll be coming in and doing molecular biology experiments. This program will give you, in Dr. Albertson's words, "an understanding of the scientific process". After your time in the lab, you will be prepared to pursue a track towards medical school, scientific research, or any other science-based interest you may have. "When I came to college for the first time I was so naïve," Dr. Albertson confessed. "What is a professor? What do they do? Are they teachers or scientists? It's important to pull back that curtain so that students won't be so confused." By participating in this summer program, you will be able to see the personalities and the inner workings of the professionals who make up this University. 


    Dr. Albertson's work is on the cutting edge of "moving beyond genes". In the lab, he and his team are working to understand the formation of the cranial skeleton (that is, the face and the skull together). Up onto this point, the research has focused on genes, but genes don't exist in a vacuum. They operate in an embryo where moving cells and tissues interact, enacting forces upon each other. These forces and interactions that don’t have anything to do with genes have a huge influence on how the final geometry of an organism forms. The Albertson lab aims to move beyond genes to understand how these interactions within the embryo can feed back on the genetic system, thereby influencing how structures form. 

     I learned a lot from a 10 minute phone interview with Dr. Albertson, so if you are lucky enough to spend the summer in his lab, I can guarantee you will leave all sorts of exciting new information! For more information about our variety of pre-college offerings, check out our website:  

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