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The White Sea Comparative Physiology Summer School, 2012

The White Sea Comparative Physiology Summer School

8-22 September 2012

THE FIRST WHITE SEA COMPARATIVE PHYSIOLOGY SUMMER SCHOOL took place at the White Sea Biological Station of Lomonosov Moscow State University from 8 to 22 September 2012.

The School was organized by WSBS and Department of human and animal physiology and supported by

Russian Foundation of Basic Research and Russian Ministry of Education and Science. Additional funding was provided by Nikolay Shabalin.

The main aim of the to demonstrate the application of established experimental methods for studying marine fish and invertebrate physiology to undergraduate and PhD students from different countries.


In order to learn modern physiological methods all students passed through laboratory practicals, which included 7 experimental tasks:

1. Intracellular registration of action potentials in isolated atrial preparations of cod using glass microelectrodes. Instructor: Denis Abramochkin, PhD.
2. Confocal calcium imaging of isolated fish cardiomyocytes stained with fluo-3-AM fluorescent dye. Instructors: Holly Shiels, PhD, Elena Vortsepneva, PhD.
3. Long-term ECG registration in conscious unrestrained cod. Instructors: Vladislav Kuzmin, PhD, Matti Vornanen, PhD, Svetlana Kotova, Maria Suris.
4. Registration of miniature end-plate potentials in longitudinal body wall muscle fibers of lugworm Arenicola marina using glass microelectrodes. Instructor: Denis Abramochkin, PhD.
5. Investigation the mechanisms of calcium-dependent luminescence in elytrum of polychaete worm Harmothoe imbricata. Instructors:Anton Zakharov, Maria Plyuscheva, PhD.
6. Registration of mechanical activity of longitudinal body-wall muscle strip in sea squirt Styela rustica. Instructor: Eugenia Volkova.
7. Optical mapping of fish atrium activation sequence. Instructors: Denis Abramochkin, PhD, Vladislav Kuzmin, PhD (it was held in the Lab of Cardiac Electrophysiology, Institute of Experimental Cardiology, lab head – academician Leonid Rosenshtraukh).

The following students have participated in the School and got Certificates of attendance:

1. Adam Keen, University of Manchester, UK
2. Bojana Micic, University of Belgrade, Serbia
3. Elena Dyukova, Kazan Federal University, Kazan, Russia
4. Karlina Ozolina, University of Manchester, UK
5. Laura Terrier, University of Angers, France
6. Marina Vaykshnorayte, Institute of Physiology, Komi Science Center, Syktyvkar, Russia
7. Natalia Kaseva, Institute of Physiology, Komi Science Center, Syktyvkar, Russia
8. Natalia Kuzminova, Institute of Southern Seas Biology, Sevastopol, Ukraine
9. Nicolas Ledieu, University of Angers, France
10. Thomas Eliot Haworth, University of Manchester, UK
11. Wenke Ludwig, University of Bremen, Germany

The following invited speakers held 17 lectures on various aspects of comparative physiology:

1. Gina Galli G, PhD, researcher in University of Manchester, UK
2. Hans-Joachim Pfluger G-J, PhD, professor in Free University of Berlin, Germany
3. Maria Plyuscheva M, PhD, researcher in Centre of Genomic Regulation, Barcelona, Spain
4. Holly Shiels H, PhD, professor in University of Manchester, UK
5. Matti Vornanen M, PhD, professor in University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland
6. Denis Abramochkin, PhD, researcher in Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia
7. Olga Balezina, PhD, professor in Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia
8. Alexander Vorotnikov, PhD, researcher in Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia
9. Yuri Panchin, PhD, professor, lab head in Institute for Information Transmission Problems
10. Alexander Semenov, chief of WSBS diving team, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia
11. Alexander Tsetlin, PhD, professor, WSBS director, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia

Six volunteers supported organization of the School:

Anna Sycheva, Svetlana Kotova, Maria Suris, Alexander Gvozdev, Sergey Petrov and Alexander Kotsky. Thanks to their sincere efforts the participants of the School had various social activities, which included 4 parties, sea trip to Kastyan island, fishing, zoological excursion, Russian movies as well as excursions in Moscow and other. Each participant got a mug and a t-shirt with School symbolic.

To evaluate the School each participant filled in a questionnaire, which contained several questions on quality of scientific and social program. According to this feedback, Denis Abramochkin, the executive vice-president of Organising Committee, together with prof. Holly Shiels and prof. Matti Vornanen made several conclusions and pointed perspectives of the next summer school.


In general, we consider the School as an important event in the field of comparative physiology. Comparative studies are less obviously related to practical applications, so it can sometimes be difficult to fund such research or teaching. Therefore, the enthusiastic support of Russian organizers is especially worthy. Thanks to the low costs of the course, it represents a unique chance for students from all over the world to learn useful physiological techniques and learn about recent scientific findings in this field.  After thorough analysis of students’ questionnaires we are now aware of the main advantages and disadvantages of the 2012 event. Positive feedback from the students encourages us to organize the Second White Sea School in 2015 with several improvements, which should make the school even more successful.

Laboratory practicals

Practical classes were definitely the most worthy part of the past School. In some universities, practical tasks have been removed from physiology courses, leaving students interested in physiology with little or no chances to develop experimental methods or compare pros and cons of different methods. Schools like the past one can really help these students, so during the Second school we will focus especially on the practical classes.

According to the student feedback, the tasks on calcium imaging, action potential registration and recording of fish ECG were the most successful and will definitely go to the Second school. We plan to add to the program patch-clamp of fish cardiomyocytes, registration of contractile activity in blood vessels, and one more in vivo technique on the fish cardiovascular system. Therefore the Second school will be more tightly focused on cardiovascular physiology. This will raise the integrity and overall level of the course.

We also have to provide a separate instructor for each of the practical tasks! For each task we should not only provide a theoretical introduction, but point which definite results the students should obtain during their work. In the end of each task the results should be analyzed and discussed.


The students found most of the lectures OK. Lectures given by our foreign researchers seemed to be the most interesting, thanks to good balance between “scientific” and “educative” components together with clear, simple and illustrative way of presentation.
However, overall students would prefer the lectures to provide theoretical background to the laboratory practicals. As long as practical course will be seriously modified at the next School, the lecture list will be also changed significantly and focused mainly on cardiovascular aspects of comparative physiology.

Social activities, popular lectures & everyday life

All the participants were extremely pleased with parties, lectures and other activities, except movies. So, we will try to select movies more thoroughly, add one more sea excursion as well as arrange time for forest walks and move disco to a place better than the dark cellar of lab building.

Living conditions at WSBS significantly improve each year. During the last 5 years a great progress was achieved in hostel conditions, hygienic level and quality of food. We are glad that most of students were quite satisfied with the level of comfort, but we will definitely be able to provide even better lodging and living conditions to the participants of the next school. In particular, new banya will be constructed next year, pillows and mattresses will be changed. We’ll also try to provide a supply with fresh fruits and vegetables for the next school.

Overall the 1st WSBS physiological school should be considered a success. And should become a regular event giving international students a chance to improve their practical skills while learning about the unique natural environment of the White Sea. The ultimate aim is for this course to increase the profile of the WSBS in physiological research and Russian physiological research in the wider community.

Dr. Denis Abramochkin, Moscow State University
Prof. Matti Vornanen, University of Eastern Finland
Prof. Holly Shiels, University of Manchester



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