MDI Biological Laboratory

Art Meets Science: Metamorphosis

Mount Desert Island has long been a place where painters, writers, and scientists intermingle, enriching the community and contributing to the world beyond in transformative ways. Continuing this tradition, MDI Biological Laboratory, a center for the study of regenerative medicine has been inspired by the 2018 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) whitepaper, “Branches from the Same Tree,” to invite leading scholars from the disciplines of art and science to come together on our campus to address shared interests from the perspectives of their fields.

  • August 19-20, 2022
  • MDI Biological Laboratory


MDI Biological Laboratory Art Meets Science event series

Writing in an essay published in 1937, Albert Einstein observed that “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree … ennobling man’s life.” Roused by his words, NASEM examined whether programs integrating humanities and arts with science, math and technology lead to improved educational and career outcomes; their inquiry arrived at overwhelmingly positive results. Art Meets Science: Metamorphosis seeks to reinforce and enhance the report’s conclusions with presentations by a diverse group of distinguished speakers on a topic of shared interest and unusual import. Join us for a special, two-day interdisciplinary symposium as we examine how a term celebrating change has been poetically and practically explored, elaborated, and depicted and is currently being used as a tool for inquiry into mechanisms that promise to sustain us in the future.

Organized by Hermann Haller, M.D., President, MDI Biological Laboratory with Linda Seidel, Ph.D., Hanna Holborn Gray Professor Emerita Medieval & Northern Renaissance Art, University of Chicago, and Pamela Smith, Ph.D., Seth Low Professor of History; Director of the Center for Science & Society, Columbia University.

Recordings are now available online.


Friday, August 19, 2022

1:00 Welcome and Introduction
Hermann Haller, M.D., President MDI Biological Laboratory

1:15  Art AND Science: Allies in Inquiry
Linda Seidel, Ph.D., Hanna Holborn Gray Professor Emerita Medieval & Northern Renaissance Art, University of Chicago
An overview of the vaunted kinship  between arts and sciences in the later Middle Ages and the part played by the idea of metamorphosis in sowing seeds for their divergence in subsequent centuries.

1:45 Lizard Tails, Caterpillars, and Frog Seed: Practical Investigation of Metamorphosis in Early Modern Europe
Pamela Smith, Ph.D., Seth Low Professor of History; Director of the Center for Science and Society, Columbia University
Generation (spontaneous or otherwise) and metamorphosis were perennially fascinating sites of human investigation into nature over the longue-durée, from artists’ workshops to scientific laboratories. This paper considers some of the ways that these phenomena were investigated in artists’ workshops from 1400 to 1700.

2:30 Lizard Tail Regeneration as an Instructive Model of Enhanced Healing Capabilities in an Adult Amniote* 
Thomas Lozito, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC
This presentation will demonstrate how a singular animal ability can be developed as a novel model to study complicated healing processes. Lizards form blastemas that lead to new tissue growth in response to appendage amputation, while humans and other mammals form scars, and our goal is to elucidate the mechanisms by which lizards effectively reprogram their own somatic cells and direct these to replace lost structures. We will also describe the effects of recreating aspects of the lizard injury response in mammals toward improving healing, and the findings presented here will provide a very unique perspective to human wound repair and regeneration.

3:15 ‘Those Which Have Undergone No Such Alteration’: Fossils, Race, and Transformation in Seventeenth-Century Europe (and Beyond)
Rebecca Zorach, Ph.D., Mary Jane Crowe Professor in Art and Art History, Northwestern University
This presentation reconsiders 17th century notions of spontaneous generation and the belief that (what we now understand to be) fossils had been formed through powers inherent in the earth, arguing that the more “modern” ideas that superseded them were shaped by racial theories that underpinned colonial violence in the emerging global ecology of knowledge.

4:00 Metamorphosis is an Ancient, Ancestral, Environmentally-Informed Characteristic of Animal Development
James A. Coffman, Ph.D., Associate Professor, MDIBL; Director, Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE)
A review of pictures illustrating sea urchin metamorphosis, from Dr. Coffman’s scientific research. Within sea urchins, metamorphosis is controlled by thyroxine-like compounds that the larvae obtain from the algae they eat, as shown by Andreas Heyland (U. Guelph). Image analysis shows stunning variation in larvae clonally derived via budding, vs the adult that arises by metamorphosis of the larva, entirely from the rudiment.  The bodies and body plans of the larva and adult are completely different, with orthogonal axes.

4:45 Closing
Pamela Smith, Ph.D.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

9:00 Welcome and Introduction
Hermann Haller, M.D., Linda Seidel, Ph.D., and Pamela Smith, Ph.D.

9:30 Dormant Yet Deadly: Metaphors for Regeneration in African Art
Risham Majeed, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Art, Art History, Architecture, Ithaca College
This talk explores how certain creatures (in particular the mudfish) furnish metaphors for the nature of power across west African cultures, positioning ‘artists’ as scientists and priests who ignite works of art as living and active forces for their communities.

10:15 Metamorphosis and Tail Regeneration in the Axolotl
Prayag Murawala, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, MDI Biological Laboratory
The Mexican salamander axolotl can regenerate many different body parts including heart, lung, kidney, limbs, tail and even brain upon injury or amputation. They are also capable of healing their wounds without scarring. Being an amphibian, axolotl is also an important model for evolutionary studying metamorphosis. In this session of arts meet science, we will compare mechanisms of limb and tail regeneration. We will study, what are the similarities and differences among tissue regeneration between these two appendages. Next, we will look at the effect of metamorphosis on tissue regeneration.

11:00 Fertile Hybrids, Material Transformations, and Workshop Secrets: The Re-generation of Grotesque Ornament Across Media in the Renaissance
Tianna Uchacz, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Visualization, Texas A&M University
This talk emphasizes how notions of generation, hybridity, and recombination in the natural world informed a visual vocabulary of sixteenth-century grotesque ornament that, in turn, was used to encode and circulate knowledge about artistic practice and its processes of material transformation.

11:45 Coffee Break

12:00 Thyroid Signaling in Amphibian Regeneration*
Yun-Bo Shi, Ph.D., Head of Section on Molecular Morphogenesis and Associate Scientific Director for Budget and Administration, NICHD, NIH
A brief introduction on the importance of thyroid hormone (T3) in mammalian and amphibian development, and the anuran model Xenopus laevis/tropicalis. A dual function model for T3 receptor (TR) during Xenopus development. The effects of TRa knockout: roles in regulating metamorphic timing and rate. The effects of knocking out both TRa and TRb genes or TR double knockout (TRDKO): roles in larval tissue resorption vs adult organ development. A brief summary and comparison to TR mouse TRDKO mice.

12:45 “The Sun is God”: Turner and Insurance 
Matthew Hunter, Ph.D., Associate Professor & Department Chair, Art History & Communication Studies, McGill University
Reconsidering the insurance logic central to modern interpretation of JMW Turner’s Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhon Coming On (exh. 1840), this paper explores the broader metamorphosis of art’s making, moving, showing, selling, and being through insurantial technics and cosmologies in early nineteenth-century Britain.

1:30 Closing Panel
Hermann Haller, M.D., Linda Seidel, Ph.D., and Pamela Smith, Ph.D.

2:00 Lunch

*Speaker is presenting remotely