Author Archives: Griffin Haas


This summer has been truly excellent. I’ve really enjoyed my research opportunity, and have loved every moment in lab. I came into the program excited, but a bit uncertain as to what to expect. My laboratory experience surpassed my hopes and was extremely engaging, allowing me to learn a lot about microbiology and immunology, as well as taught me new lab skills involving genetics and cloning. I was able to form a friendship with my excellent mentor and have learned so much about the field of virology through his insight. Additionally, I’ve made several new friends through the program, and look forward to keeping in contact with them as the summer (and our lives) progress.

I feel as if this experience has strengthened my skillset and knowledge of research, and I am confident that I can apply that to future research opportunities. I’m planning on continuing to pursue research through undergrad, and am considering graduate school for a field in microbiology. This program makes me feel as if I would really enjoy the life of a grad student, and I look forward to potentially exploring that path.

Overall, I have had a phenomenal time with BSURF; it has been incredible opportunity that I am so glad to have been involved with.

Faculty Seminars – Dr. Raphael Valdivia

Throughout the entirety of our program, we’ve had the privilege of getting to hear several speakers from the Duke faculty describe  their lives and their experiences in research.  I’ve really enjoyed receiving insight from each faculty member in regards to their life before research and what events or decisions lead them into the world of research. A common theme I noticed was many of the faculty credited excellent mentors with leading them to where they are today; I find that extremely encouraging, in that Duke is an environment full of amazing mentors.

In particular, one faculty member whose research caught my attention Dr. Raphael Valdivia. Dr. Valdivia studies the pathogen Chlamydia trachomatis, which can cause sexually transmitted infections. I’ve always been interested in the study of pathogens, so I immediately found Dr. Valdivia’s work fascinating. I really enjoyed his use of videos describing how the pathogen thrives within membrane-bound compartments in cells (I had never heard of bacterial pathogens doing this!). I also found it very interesting how he described social stigma related to his work (due to the nature of transmission of the pathogen). Overall I found his research extremely exciting, and am very curious to learn more about it.

Week 6: The Joys and Woes of Research

The first part of my research experience went surprisingly smooth, with few mishaps or questionable results, with the exception of an enzyme or two not working as well as we’d hope. It was fantastic to see my first plasmid I worked with (expressing GP120 and Red Fluorescent Protein) successfully be integrated into the poxvirus genome; some cells in our tissue culture glowed red, confirming the gene’s uptake!

The second plasmid I’ve been working with has required much more trouble-shooting, however. After several days of digesting and ligating pieces of DNA, we finally grew up a culture of E. Coli that we’d transformed with our plasmid (to make much more of it to work with). At first glance on a gel its size looked right. But after doing digests to confirm the genes we desired were present, we quickly realized something had gone wrong. After a few attempts to isolate the plasmid of interest from the overwhelming amount of ‘wrong’ plasmid, we finally decided to take another route. We’d order a synthesized segment of the plasmid to work with, making it more straightforward of a process.

While this setback wasn’t major or devastating, it showed me how valuable troubleshooting and the ability to adapt is to research. Things can quickly take an unexpected turn, and it is good to be prepared to deal with those issues and find a way around them. All in all, I’ve extremely enjoyed my research experience thus far and am looking forward to continuing work on this project!

Chalk Talk Reflections

This past week I had the pleasure of getting to learn about the research of all of my peers in the BSURF Program. In particular, I found Yilin’s presentation about her research to be very fascinating.

Yilin and the lab she is in studies if a mutation in the scaffolding protein Shank2 is associated with bipolar disorder. She is involved with amplifying the gene of interest from patient samples using PCR for analysis of mutations. She also is perfecting the methodology of running these PCRs. Following this, she will have the samples sequenced and then computationally compare the sequences for similar mutations in an effort to see if such a mutation is associated with Bipolar disorder.

I found Yilin’s work very interesting in that I’ve not encountered much scientific literature on bipolar disorder or its causes; i thought her proposed mechanism of action (the mutated Shank2 protein) was very interesting and am interested to hear what her findings are following the computational analysis. Yilin did an excellent job presenting her research and it sounds as if she has a very exciting project to be involved with!

Lab Life

The typical day in the Pickup lab begins at around 10:00 AM. I usually check in with Dr. Pickup and our lab tech Nicole to see how they’re doing and make sure I know what to plan to work on for the day.

Every other day we split our cell lines and transfer them to new flasks so that they aren’t too confluent; if that is on the list for the day, then I’ll bring our cart of supplies to the tissue culture room on the floor and work with the cells. Otherwise, I typically will run experiments with  DNA (minipreps, ethanol precipitations, restriction enzyme digests, gel electrophoresis, etc). Usually these experiments have some wait-time associated with them as they run to completion, so in between I tend to read papers, plan future experiments to run, or eat lunch. I’ll also check back in with Dr. Pickup to make sure I’m on the right track and to get more insight into the details of the project and experiments I’m involved with.

Each day in the Pickup lab is enjoyable and is typically complete by about 6:00, so if an experiment can’t be left overnight we tend to plan it to be finished by then. It’s very nice to be in a smaller lab, in that I have the opportunity to speak with Dr. Pickup daily about his work and my project. It’s fantastic to get that insight frequently and has been very valuable to my research experience.

Week 3: Research Project

The Pickup lab studies poxviruses and their interactions with host cells, as well as their potential to be used as vectors in immunizations. Previous studies using a poxvirus known as Modified Vaccinia Ankara (MVA) were conducted to try and elicit a mucosal immune response in rabbits against the HIV protein GP120. However, MVA administered intranasally failed to elicit a strong, mucosal immune response.

The project I have been working on is crafting a different poxvirus to be used in this study. We are working towards modifying the genome of Rabbitpox Virus to make it replication-defective and capable of expressing GP120. Rabbitpox is very pathogenic in rabbits and infects the cells of rabbit mucosa well; therefore, in theory it should be a more effective vaccine vector than MVA. However, due to its ability to cause serious disease in rabbits, we must modify its genome so that it cannot replicate and produce progeny virus following infection. It is our hypothesis that a replication-defective strain of rabbitpox will elicit a stronger mucosal immunity than MVA against GP120 without the consequence of morbidity in rabbits.

I’ve really enjoyed working on this project thus far and have learned so much. It’s been a lot of work with plasmids and gel electrophoresis, as well as learning to use restriction endonucleases to cleave DNA into pieces of interest. I’m very excited to see this project through, and am excited to see what results it will provide in the end. If our hypothesis is correct, then we may have several opportunities to craft new research questions from our results. This project has been very insightful into the world of research and virology, and I’ve loved every moment of it.

Week 2: An Interview with Dr. David Pickup

“I always have been intrigued by how things work.” Dr. Pickup replied as I asked him why he enjoyed being a researcher. He continued to explain that science is an avenue through which to understand how things work; particularly in his field of work, understanding virus and host cell interactions.

Dr. David Pickup first decided to pursue science in highschool; his school had students choose a course of study focused in either the sciences or the arts early on, and he chose to study science. He went on to receive a degree in Botany (specializing in microbiology) from Royal Holloway College, University of London in 1974. Through his study of botany, he learned of plant pathogens and plasmids, which caught his interest. In 1975, he received his Masters degree in General Virology from the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom. He then received his PhD in virology from the National Institute for Medical Research, London in 1979.

He received further training with molecular biology and poxviruses during his post-doctoral training at Duke University, in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Following his post-doc work, he joined Duke’s faculty and has since remained with the university as a researcher. His lab studies poxviruses and interactions between the host cell; particularly, he is fascinated by how poxviruses can control and manipulate host functions and immune responses. A deeper understanding of these mechanisms could prove useful for future applications, including some therapies or immunizations.

Dr. Pickup’s advice for anyone interested in pursuing a career in research is that they must have a passion for it. Research takes a tremendous amount of time and energy, and without a passion for it, it would be a very difficult field to be in. He suggests exploring a variety of fields in science and finding one that interests you; pursue research in an area that stimulates your interest. He also cautioned that research is often delayed gratification. It can take an extraordinary amount of  time and effort to reach a definitive answer in science; a research project could last several months or years. But with patience and a passion for their field of investigation, an individual can thrive in scientific research.

Week 1: Thoughts and Experiences

My first week  at Duke for the BSURF program has been fantastic. I’ve enjoyed meeting and connecting with the other students in the program, and have made many new friends. I’ve also very much enjoyed having the opportunity to be involved with Dr. Pickup’s lab and research. Microbiology (especially virology) is a field that has always fascinated me; having the opportunity to work in a lab that studies virology is a dream come true! Although I was initially a bit timid about ‘fitting in’ to a new lab environment, everyone in the lab has been extremely kind and patient, and I’m finding myself very happy there.

This first week has largely been focused on gaining familiarity with the lab, its experimental procedures, and its research topics. Consequentially, I’ve been reading a lot of literature related to virology, tissue culture, plasmid preparation/manipulation, and restriction enzymes. Although the literature can be a bit difficult to navigate through, I’ve found many of the articles to be very insightful.  I’ve also had the chance to observe members of the lab run and explain experiments, and I’ve learned a great deal this week! This kind of insight is what I’m most looking forward to this summer: the opportunity to learn extensively about microbiology and experimental procedures, as well as being able to be involved with exciting research. I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity, and am looking forward to delving into research with the Pickup lab!