By: Hailey Meyer

Going to conferences to present your research is a part of graduate training at Washington State University. Although, according to Marietta Easterling, a graduate student in the School of Biological Sciences, nothing prepared her for what to say when a Nobel Prize winning scientist asked her about her research during the International Xenopus Conference.

Pictured: Marietta Easterling & Sir John Gurdon

Easterling attended the conference to present her doctoral dissertation research, that seeks to understand how nutrition regulates early development. She looks at a hormone called leptin, which regulates food intake and energy balance to some extent in all vertebrates. Leptin has been studied mostly in juvenile and adult animals, but she’s more interested in the earlier stages of development when structures are initially formed. By using the Xenopus frog as a model organism, she found that leptin plays an important role in the development of limbs and their ability to regenerate after injury, by increasing the rate and quality.

The International Xenopus Conference is the premier forum for researchers who are using this type of model for their study. This meeting provides an abundance of opportunities for interaction, with lectures by students, professors, postdocs, poster sessions, and career development programs.

Easterling was presenting her research on leptin and development at a poster session at the conference, and to her surprise, ended up presenting her research to Sir John Gurdon. Gurdon is a developmental biologist who is best known for his research in nuclear transplantation and cloning, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2012.

“I was actually walking around looking at someone else’s poster, when my friend told me that John Gurdon was checking out my poster, so I sprinted back over and introduced myself and we talked about my research,” Easterling explained.

At other conferences she’s attended, she described that they were much larger and more formal. At the Xenopus conference though, she said, “everyone at the conference is so excited about your research, and really wants to help you out in any way that they can. It’s like a huge family.” And after talking with Sir Gurdon, Easterling felt confirmation for her research and the work she has done.

Easterling is working to submit her research for publication and is looking forward to graduating this year. She recommends to other students to “always work hard, when you go to a conference don’t be shy about talking with people, and presenting your research, you never know who you may end up talking to.”