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Lab Member BiosBarresi Lab Members 2015

Barresi Biography

Why are we the way we are? This is the fundamental question that fuels my interest in the sciences. The answer to this question may be found through a variety of disciplines; however, a majority of the most important events that set up what we look like and even how we behave occur at the very beginning of our lives during embryonic development.

This basic question has led me to become a developmental neurobiologist, someone who tries to determine how the nervous system first gets formed.

I am interested in how the different types of cells in the nervous system interact during development to set up the correct neuronal wiring in the brain. In January of 2005 I joined the faculty of the department of Biological Sciences at Smith College, and created an internally and externally supported research laboratory. Currently, my lab investigates the roles of the Slit and Robo gene families during axon and glial cell interactions using the zebrafish as a model system. I created Smith College’s first zebrafish facility housing about 2000 adult fish and the facility will grow in the years to come.

In addition to research, I have a great love for teaching. I am committed to developing novel teaching strategies that challenge students to become critical thinkers in the field of Biology as well as to adapt to an ever-changing student body.

Prior to Smith College, I completed a three year postdoctoral position in Dr. Rolf Karlstrom’s Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. This is where I began my first immersion in the field of neuroscience. The Karlstrom lab studies brain patterning with a particular emphasis on pituitary specification as well as optic chiasm and commissure formation in the forebrain. My postdoctoral research was focused on the molecular mechanisms of commissural axon guidance in the zebrafish forebrain.

May 2001, I received my Doctoral degree from Wesleyan University, Middletown CT. While at Wesleyan I worked in Dr. Stephen Devoto’s Laboratory investigating the requirement of Sonic Hedgehog signaling for slow muscle fiber type development during zebrafish embryogenesis and muscle growth. Originally, I had serious intensions of pursuing a career as a high school Biology teacher, however while in graduate school I gained a real appreciation for how well research and teaching complement each other. An active research program fuels critical thinking and maintains excitement for learning new things about the world, while teaching truly forces one to understand what we currently know about our world as well as be able to communicate that knowledge.

As an undergraduate student at Merrimack College, North Andover, MA, I was eager to learn as much as I could about a variety of different disciplines in Biology. I worked as an aquatic technician in the Environmental Lab at the Milestone Point Nuclear Power Plant examining the population and growth of many different types of fish and mollusks. I spent one semester at the Sea Education Association and Woodshole Oceanographics Institute with focused studies on oceanography, marine biology, and developing a research project. I then was one of thirty crew members that sailed the 134ft. Corwith Cramer research vessel around the Caribbean Sea. We sailed 24-7, non-stop carrying out a variety of research projects. Specifically I studied the biogeography of ciguatera related toxic dinoflagellates in highly polluted verse non-polluted areas. This was an amazing experience on so many levels, however I decided that the ocean was just too big of a laboratory for me maintain enough control over my experiments. So, I tried out bench work in the area of cellular and molecular biology.

I first worked as a lab technician at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute with Dr. Linda Clayton studying the process of apoptosis during negative T-cell selection in the mouse thymus. This was a remarkable experience that confirmed for me the general area of research I was most attracted to, that of molecular and developmental biology. During my senior year at Merrimack College I conducted an honors thesis projected with Dr. Josephine Napolitano focused on defining whether two anti-cancer drugs might work synergistically targeting the mitochondria of a colon cancer cell line.

While at Merrimack I also minored in Studio Art with a concentration in illustration, mosaic design, and photography. I have been very lucky to use my artistic abilities to visually represent some of the seemingly abstract biological processes I research, as it has been extremely helpful for my comprehension and ability to communicate the research being conducted. Many of my illustrations have been incorporated into my research publications. It has been a mutually beneficial, interdisciplinary merging of art and science.

I was born and grew up in Windsor, CT, and attended the Windsor public High School. I am the youngest of seven children, having four brothers and two sisters.

Contact the Barresi Lab: Michael J.F. Barresi, mbarresi@smith.edu

Office ph. 413.585.3697
Lab ph. 413.585.3961

44 College Lane
Clark Science Center
Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063