“You can’t overstate the effect that walking to work through this beautiful campus has on your well-being. It clears your head and prepares you to do the best science possible.”Dustin Updike, Ph.D.
The MDIBL community recently came together to celebrate the promotion of Dustin Updike, Ph.D., to Associate Professor.
In the seven years that Dustin has been a valued member of the MDIBL team, he has seen the Lab grow from just four year-round faculty, to its current eleven – with two new faculty expected to join in the next year. “MDIBL is the perfect place to do research,” he says. “It is special, and I joined at a time of growth and change for a 120-year old institution with a rich history. You can’t overstate the effect that walking to work through this beautiful campus has on your well-being. It clears your head and prepares you to do the best science possible.”
Dustin’s Lab is working to unlock the fundamental secrets of basic biology. Despite progress in understanding how our bodies work, there is still much that we do not yet understand. For example, why do the ‘somatic’ cells (cells that comprise our muscle, skin, neurons, blood, etc.) differ so much from the ‘germ’ cells that develop into oocytes and sperm, giving rise to every other cell in the body. Both cell types have the same DNA, but only germ cells have something called “germ granules” – tiny organelles that lie just outside the nucleus of all germ cells. Dustin and his team hope to discover the mechanisms by which these granules control the function of a cell, conferring its immortal potential. This discovery could provide scientists with new tools to control regeneration and prevent the growth of tumors.
When asked what MDIBL’s biggest asset is, Dustin comments on the Lab’s modest size. “There is a sense of community on campus; it’s easy to make things happen,” he says. “I can walk over and talk to anybody that works here, and we can quickly devise a solution for just about anything.” Raised in rural Wyoming, Dustin believes that despite the differences in landscape between where he grew up and the forests and coasts of Maine, there’s a similarity in the people that befits scientific research. “Living in either place requires a huge amount of innovation,” he says. “And that is what makes those who work at MDIBL particularly suited for the work that we are doing.”
In addition to his hard work and exceptional research, Dustin has also been recognized for his dedication to mentoring students in his lab and for his role in teaching INBRE short courses for a number of University if Maine campuses. In 2018 he received the Patricia H. Hand Career Development Award, given to early career faculty who exemplify scientific excellence and mentoring of students. Dustin is excited by the caliber of the young scientists he sees coming through his courses. “These students are brilliant, sincere, motivated, and bring unbelievable amounts of innovation to their research projects,” he explains. “It gives me great hope for the future.”