<figcaption> Credit: © LEAH FASTEN PHOTOGRAPHY</figcaption>

Rachel Wilson isn't used to backing down from a challenge. The subject of her graduate work at the University of California, San Francisco - lovingly referred to by peers as "the project of death" - sought the molecular mediator of retrograde signaling, how postsynaptic cells communicate with presynaptic cells. As the list of candidates on her legal pad dwindled, her colleagues offered some less than helpful advice. "Once, I came in and saw someone had written 'mayonnaise,'" Wilson recalls with a laugh.

Her graduate advisor, Roger Nicoll says she had the determination of a bulldog. "I was wondering ... if I was going to have to make use of a leash," he says. Jokes aside, he was concerned. "At some point, it was borderline suicidal in terms of graduate training."

What could have been career suicide instead led to a high-profile paper identifying the culprit:...

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