Campus News

Bowdoin Professor Awarded Guggenheim

Story posted May 15, 1999


May 10, 1999, BRUNSWICK, Maine -- Patsy Dickinson, professor of biology at Bowdoin, has been awarded a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation. She was one of only 179 Fellows chosen from among 2,800 applicants.

Dickinson will use the $33,000 grant to take a year-long sabbatical from Bowdoin to research portions of the nervous system of the spiny lobster.

Though studying the nervous system of a spiny lobster is a far cry from determining how to cure spinal cord injuries, research into simple animals such as the lobster gives scientists keys to understanding the operation of more complex nervous systems, such as those in people.

"There's always the hope that the knowledge will let us do more for humans," Dickinson said.

It has been found that a portion of the lobster's nervous system behaves differently when it is removed from the influences of the rest of the system.

The lobster's stomach works differently from that of humans and other vertebrates. The lobster essentially chews its food with its stomach, and the neurons that Dickinson will study are those that signal the stomach to act on the food. When the neurons are isolated from the rest of the nervous system they still send out signals, but those signals are different than they would be if the neurons were still connected to the system. Dickinson will try to determine why this happens.

The way that the lobster's neurons control its stomach is similar to the way that locomotion is controlled in humans and other vertebrates.

Dickinson's research will help scientists better understand the workings of simple nervous systems, which in turn could help them better understand similar systems in other animals. These body systems must be understood if research is to find cures for motor diseases and problems such as spinal cord injuries.

Her research will take Dickinson and her family to France. Dickinson has taught at Bowdoin since 1983. She earned her bachelors degree at Pomona College and her master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Washington.

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