Microelectrode Techniques for Cell Physiology:Annual Workshop held at the Marine Biological Association

Lead Research Organisation: Marine Biological Association
Department Name: Marine Biology

Abstract

Much of what we know about how cells function, how they communicate and process information and how they transport essential elements and molecules has come from the application of electrophysiological approaches. The most well known example of this is the pioneering work of Hodgkin and Huxley, carried out at the Marine Biological Association (MBA) with the giant nerve fibre of the squid which led to the discovery of how nerve cells transmit impulses and formed the basis of much modern neurobiology.

Since these seminal discoveries the field of electrophysiology has expanded dramatically and electrophysiological approaches are applied in the biomedical, biotechnological and discovery science fields to to gain molecular level understanding of a wide range of processes in cells ranging from medical disorders to plant growth and development and global ecological processes. For example, researchers at the Marine Biological Association continue to use and develop electrophysiological and optical methods applied in investigations of the evolution of electrical excitability in primitive unicellular marine organisms to understanding the cellular basis of carbon fixation in marine phytoplankton, important in the contexts of marine ecology and global climate regulation.

In 1984 it was decided that there was a need for an annual research workshop to provide training in the varied uses of microelectrode techniques. This has proven to be a very valuable contribution to cell biology and biophysics and has had significant impact on the training of new generations of cell physiologists. The MBA was chosen as the venue for this workshop since it provided both excellent workshop facilities and a continuing tradition of microelectrode and associated biophysical approaches in cell biology. The workshop has continued uninterrupted since then and is now recognized worldwide as one of the leading advanced research workshops in this field having provided advanced training to more than 500 early career scientists.

The need to train the new generation of electrophysiolgists continues, particularly with the increased emphasis on functional characterisation of membrane proteins and a wide range of cell biological areas. The workshop continues to be over-subscribed with applications 3-4 fold each year for the 20 places available. To meet this continuing need the proposed 5-year extension to the ongoing workshop will provide training in both the basic principles and more advanced practical and theoretical aspects of electrophysiology. New approaches are planned to be incorporated over this period. The basic workshop fomat will continue with a core of teaching and demonstrating staff recruited mainly from research laboratories in the UK and Europe along with an intensive series of talks and demonstrations from invited international experts. The workshop also benefits from the good relations that have been established over 30 years with a large number of commercial instrument manufacturers that ensures significant in-kind contributions of equipment and the provision of their expertise as instructors.

Technical Summary

The Plymouth Microelectrodes course is a 2 week residential Workshop started in 1984 to teach electrophysiological techniques for cell physiology and developmental biology. The venue, the Marine Biological Association, has proved to be very practical from the point of view of organisation, infrastructure and support, as well as being historically appropriate. The need for workshops of this type is evident from the consistent high number of applications to the Workshop each year. The Workshop has generated two editions of 'Microelectrode Techniques -the Plymouth Workshop Handbook'; this textbook and other teaching materials are freely available in pdf from the MBA website.

The Workshop receives exceptional support "in kind" from major instrument manufacturers who provide their equipment on loan for the workshop period and provide technical expertise. These relationships represent a significant technical resource benefiting both academic and applied research.

In addition to teaching theory and technique, the workshop has evolved to include academic topics in neuroscience and cardiovascular physiology. We retain the hands-on tuition in basic techniques (electronics, patch clamp, single and 2-electrode voltage clamp, microinjection, ion-selective microelectrodes, extracellular recording) but also highlight experimental design, interpretation and physiological significance of results.

In neuroscience the recent advances in network studies, currently served by lectures and experiments in field potential and multielectrode array recording, will be developed further by introducing optical recording of membrane potential, genetically encoded indicators, optogenetics and photolysis. We use recombinant cells, C. elegans and Drosophila to teach these approaches. Genetic and viral labelling techniques will complement more traditional microinjection techniques for cell labeling in synaptically or electrically coupled tissues.

Planned Impact

The primary aim of the Microelectrode Techniques workshop is to deliver impact by facilitating knowledge exchange between experienced researchers, postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers and commercial developers and suppliers of electrophysiological equipment.

The objectives of this proposal are to bring about knowledge exchange via an annual advanced research workshop. Specifically we aim to:
1. Provide intensive training in the use of microelectrodes for the next generation of researchers in cell biology, biophysics and neurosciences.
2. Attract national and international participation of postgraduate, postdoctoral and experienced researchers.
3. Introduce new techniques and applications as they are developed.
4. Continue to foster unique relations with major suppliers of electrophysiological and microscopy equipment to ensure the provision of state of the art equipment for the Workshop.

PhD students and postdoctoral workers represent some of the main direct beneficiaries of this workshop, BBSRC-funded student and postdoctoral participants represent approximately 25% of the total student intake. Over its 30 year lifetime the workshop has trained more than 600 PhD and postdoctoral students. The workshop also provides a major knowledge exchange activity, benefiting BBSRC-funded scientists who both teach on the workshop and discuss the latest developments in single cell biophysics. Responses to questionnaires indicate that attendance at this workshop is viewed by student participants as valuable currency for their future employment prospects. The benefit to established scientists is evident from the large numbers of scientists who have willingly come to teach on the Workshop on an expenses-only basis. The workshop is cross-research council with significant numbers of participants funded through other UK (e.g. EPSRC, MRC, NERC), European and international bodies.

An important criterion for selection of student participants is the degree to which the techniques acquired during the workshop will be applied back in their host laboratories. UK scientists in a range of cell biological and physiological disciplines therefore represent another major group of beneficiaries. Likewise, European and international research groups benefit from the opportunities to send postgraduate and postdoctoral participants on the workshop.
There is significant exchange of know-how between workshop participants and manufacturers of electrophysiological and imaging equipment. The commercial sector benefits in two ways - through academic interactions with scientific users, leading to improved functionality of products, and through increased exposure to the academic sector and marketing opportunities. Some instrument manufacturers (e.g. Cairn Research Ltd, NPI electronics, HEKA) have participated actively in the workshop for much of its life and have taken advantage of the intensive interactions with scientists to develop their products to meet user requirements. Researchers who gain experience with a particular piece of commercial equipment are more likely to purchase that model for their own experiments. For these reasons instrument manufacturers are very willing to loan equipment and to provide demonstrations.

More generally the workshop represents a highly efficient mechanism for knowledge exchange across a broad range of scientific disciplines with obvious direct and indirect benefits to basic biological and biomedical sciences as well as biotechnological and medical fields.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Featured "Scientifica Meets" interview on Scientfica website:
First Year Of Impact 2018
 
Description Scientific Meeting Grant
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation Physiological Society 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Global
Start 09/2017 
End 09/2017
 
Description Scientific Meeting Grant
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation Company of Biologists 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 09/2017
 
Description 33rd Microelectrode Techniques Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A 2-week practical-based Workshop on the use of microelectrodes for single cell physiology. 24 postgraduate and postdoctoral students attended, along with around 20 academic teaching staff and 10 representatives from commercial instrument companies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Workshop of Microelectrode Techniques 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Practical and theoretical 2-week workshop on the application of microelectrode techniques for cell physiology. Attended by 20 postgraduate and postdoctoral students and 20 experts from around the world, providing hands on 1:! tuition. Significant participation of commercial (microscopy and electronics) companies is also a feature of this Workshop. This was the 34th workshop in this series. It continues to be substantially oversubscribed by applicants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.mba.ac.uk/microelectrode-techniques-cell-physiology