Summer Research Spotlight: Hatim Mustaly

July 12, 2012

Hatim Mustaly, a senior from Mumbai, India, is working with marine peanut worms (Sipuncula) which are shown to regenerate their anterior end after amputation as well as after damage in their normal environment. Because of the simplicity of the body plan of these worms, he anticipates that they will be good models for studying the process of nerve regeneration. The goal is to work out a protocol to follow the regenerating nerve using a fluorescent dye. A neuroscience major and economics minor, Hatim's on-campus summer research is fully funded by the Richter Scholarship and the Biology Department.

Senior Hatim Mustaly is working with marine peanut worms (Sipuncula)Describe your day-to-day experiences so far.
The worms are tiny, measuring about 2 cm in length. However, their muscular walls are really tough which makes them difficult to work with. Also, due to their small size, it has been difficult to locate their nerve. Even after locating the cord, the techniques to apply the dye on the cord are still difficult. These are the problems that we have been trying to work around in order to study the regeneration process.

What do you expect to learn?
I hope to learn a systematic approach required to find out an unknown and to overcome the challenges that I might face while pursuing it. Also, I get frustrated when something does not work the way I want and I have to keep trying again and again to make it work. I hope to develop skills to overcome that frustration and continue with my project.

How do you think this research will benefit you in terms of your education, future career plans, personal development, etc.?
This project gives me an opportunity to see how the knowledge that we gain is derived. Scientists start off with unknown and then bit-by-bit start putting pieces of a puzzle together to get the whole picture. My project is somewhat that way in which we are trying to put pieces of puzzles together. This will help me in the future where I am hoping to become a doctor. For diagnosis, I have several bits of information that I need to connect together in order to get a bigger picture.

How did you learn about this opportunity?
Another student who has already graduated started this project. I have been doing an independent study with Professor Esther Penick, who is one of my research advisors. While working on the independent study, she told me about this project that had been started and that Professor Dybas still wanted to look into it. I found the project interesting hence I decided to pursue it over summer.

Can you cite an example of how your in-classroom and/or out-of-the-classroom experiences at Knox have benefited you in the project?
Various project and laboratory based classes like Histology and Methods of Neuroscience at Knox have equipped me with skills required to use technology in the study of science. I am able to apply those skills to do my independent project.

What has been the coolest part of your project so far?
The coolest part of my project is to observe the dye that we are using under the fluorescence microscope. The color contrast that it gives out is pretty amazing.