MDI Biological Laboratory

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Coordinates: 44°25′56″N 68°17′25″W / 44.432091°N 68.290265°W / 44.432091; -68.290265

MDI Biological Laboratory
MDI Biological Laboratory logo
MDI Biological Laboratory is located in Maine
MDI Biological Laboratory
Location within Maine
TypeNonprofit Organization Research Institute
LeaderHermann Haller

The MDI Biological Laboratory is an independent non-profit biomedical research institution founded in 1898 and located in Salisbury Cove, Maine, on Mount Desert Island. Its mission is to improve human health and well- being through basic research, education, and development ventures that transform discoveries into cures.[1] In 2013, the Laboratory was designated a Center for Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) by the National Institutes of Health, which awarded the Laboratory a grant of $13 million over five years to expand the institution’s research program.[2] The MDI Biological Laboratory has a full-time staff of 63, and will offer 23 research training courses in 2014.


MDI Biological Laboratory was originally founded as the Harpswell Lab in 1898 by a biology professor at Tufts University, John Kingsley.[3][4] MDI Biological Laboratory was originally established as a teaching and research laboratory in South Harpswell, Maine and focused on natural history, embryology, and comparative anatomy.[3][5] Early investigators at the lab included Naohide Yatsu, Warren Lewis, and Margaret Reed Lewis.[3] In June of 1921, the lab moved to its current home on Mount Desert Island, Maine, to land purchased by Wild Gardens of Acadia, a group of philanthropists led by George Dorr.[3][5] Upon moving to Mount Desert Island, the name was changed to Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, and subsequently shortened to MDI Biological Laboratory.[6]


Scientists at the MDI Biological Laboratory focus on studying regeneration and aging to promote longer, healthier lives. They are developing new approaches for treating and preventing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer, as well as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases. To do so, they pick the most efficient, effective, and economical model organism for each biological question, knowing that our common evolutionary heritage means that humans share a remarkable percentage of our genome with organisms that appear to be completely different than humans.[7]

For example, MDI Biological Laboratory scientists study the tiny nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, with a lifespan of two to three weeks, to study genes that regulate aging and lifespan. Those same genes are present in humans. They study organisms such as zebrafish and salamanders that are naturally able to regenerate diseased or damaged tissue, organs, and limbs using the same genetic mechanisms found in humans. However, for some reason those mechanisms have been turned off in most mammals. MDI Biological Laboratory scientists are learning how to reactivate these mechanisms to promote healing in humans.[8]

In 2013 scientists at the MDI Biological Laboratory formed a spin-off company, Novo Biosciences, to explore the potential of MSI-1436, a naturally occurring compound, to speed wound healing and tissue repair in mammals.[9] This research was covered by Scientific American in an April 2019 feature article.[10]

Education and workforce training[edit]

Education is an important part of the MDI Biological Laboratory’s mission. Students at all levels, from middle school to medical school, receive hands-on research training that prepares them for the 21st century workforce. In 2014, the Laboratory offered 25 one- or two-week-long courses for Maine undergraduates, medical students, and scientific professionals. Academic year and summer fellowships are offered for high school and undergraduate students. These fellowships provide an extended opportunity for students to work directly with an MDI Biological Laboratory scientist and gain real-world research experience.[11][12]

The MDI Biological Laboratory leads the Maine INBRE or IDeA Network for Biomedical Research Excellence, a collaborative network of three Maine research institutions and ten Maine colleges that is strengthening Maine's capacity to conduct competitive biomedical research. Since its founding in 2001, the INBRE program has brought more than $68 million into Maine in federal grants for the research and education programs it supports, as well as an additional $38 million in federal funding for research initiated under the INBRE grant. Half of all INBRE funds are distributed across Maine among INBRE partner institutions to support student research training and junior faculty. The program has trained more than 2,000 Maine students in state-of-the-art research methods. Over 90% of INBRE graduates pursue careers or advanced education in scientific or medical fields.[13]

The 13 institutions participating in the Maine INBRE are the MDI Biological Laboratory as lead institution, The Jackson Laboratory, Bowdoin, Bates, and Colby Colleges, College of the Atlantic, the University of Maine, the University of Maine Honors College, and the University of Maine at Farmington, Fort Kent, Machias, and Presque Isle, and Southern Maine Community College.[14] In 2021, MDI Biological Labs was awarded a grant under the INBRE program to introduce undergraduate students throughout Maine to cloud computing.[15]

IDeA and INBRE are programs administered and funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Public and environmental programs[edit]

Programs at the MDI Biological Laboratory help break down the barriers that often exist between science and the public. The Laboratory offers the MDI Science Cafés,, Family Science Night, Art Meets Science program, and the Community Environmental Health Laboratory (CEHL).[16]

The Community Environmental Health Laboratory (CEHL) works to identify, locate, and remedy threats to public health and the clean waters on and around Mount Desert Island by putting science in the hands of community volunteers, students, and teachers. Every CEHL project relies on volunteer efforts from students and community members, and involves community education. Current projects at CEHL include the study and restoration of eelgrass beds in Frenchman Bay, eelgrass-based education and outreach in middle and high schools, swim beach water quality monitoring, and phytoplankton monitoring.[17]

CEHL's director, Jane Disney, Ph.D., is the recipient of numerous awards for her community-based science efforts, including the SeaWorld Busch Gardens Environmental Excellence Award (1998), the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence (2000), and the Gulf of Maine Council Visionary Award (2007). She has been instrumental in the forming of the Frenchman Bay Partners, a broad-based stakeholder group committed to a sustainable future for Frenchman Bay.[18]

Human and environmental sustainability summits[edit]

The MDI Biological Laboratory launched the Human and Environmental Sustainability Summits in 2013 as part of its focus on improving human and environmental health and on using science to solve real world problems. The summits bring together a diverse group of stakeholders to develop actionable solutions to critical problems in environmental and public health. In 2014, forty scientists, engineers, health officials, consumer advocates, food industry representatives, and educators addressed the global problem of arsenic in food and drinking water.[19]

Notable researchers[edit]


  1. ^ MDI Biological Laboratory Website
  2. ^ MDI Biological Laboratory COBRE Website
  3. ^ a b c d Strange, Kevin (January 2011). "Cell physiology at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory: a brief look back and forward". American Journal of Physiology-Cell Physiology. 300 (1): C1–C5. doi:10.1152/ajpcell.00448.2010.
  4. ^ "Our History – MDI Biological Laboratory".
  5. ^ a b Evans, David H. (2010). "A brief history of fish osmoregulation: the central role of the Mt. Desert Island Biological Laboratory". Frontiers in Physiology. 1. doi:10.3389/fphys.2010.00013.
  6. ^ Evans, David H. (2015). Marine physiology down east : the story of the Mt. Desert Island Biological Laboratory. New York. ISBN 978-1-4939-2959-7.
  7. ^ MDI Biological Laboratory Website
  8. ^ MDI Biological Laboratory Website
  9. ^ MDI Biological Laboratory Website
  10. ^ "A Drug Shows an Astonishing Ability to Regenerate Damaged Hearts and Other Body Parts".
  11. ^ MDI Biological Laboratory Website
  12. ^ MDI Biological Laboratory Website
  13. ^ MDI Biological Laboratory Website
  14. ^ MDI Biological Laboratory Website
  15. ^ Community, B. D. N. (15 December 2021). "MDI Biological Laboratory awarded grant to advance cloud computing in Maine". Bangor Daily News.
  16. ^ MDI Biological Laboratory Website
  17. ^ MDI Biological Laboratory Website
  18. ^ MDI Biological Laboratory Website
  19. ^ MDI Biological Laboratory Website

External links[edit]