Author Archives: Rebecca Lee

And Scene

After 8 weeks, it comes to a close.

So, what I’ve learned:

  1. Time management is key. I still don’t have time management under my belt, which is pretty frustrating. Even ‘til the end, I couldn’t plan my time accordingly, which led to me trying to get into lab over many weekends. No joke, it’s essential. I actually found myself running around like there was no tomorrow sometimes because of some test I forgot to do. Countless times I’ve found myself running to grab dinner before all the restaurants closed at 7 PM. I’ve had some pretty close calls.
  2. Fruit flies are pretty cute. I think this is pretty self-explanatory. Sometimes, I just wish they were more cooperative. I didn’t mean to behead you, you just wouldn’t stay still!
  3. Control experiments are very important.
  4. Patience is key. There’s a lot of waiting. Many times, in lab, I’ll find myself staring out into the distance, because I’m just waiting for that 4:00 mark to tell me to go check up on my flies again, or I’m waiting for a specific day so I can actually do a test.
  5. 8 weeks is not enough time for substantial results. So, I knew this from the beginning (more like I thought I knew this). I was also told this by many people. However, once the 6-week mark came, it really hit me that, results just weren’t going to be a huge part of my poster, which is fine. I might have been a bit disappointed that I wasn’t going to be able to see the fruits of all my work, but I mean oh well, what can you do? Tell the flies stories so that they’ll want to come out of their pupa faster and mate even faster? If only.
  6. Mistakes happen. And oh boy were there a lot of mistakes made. There would be times I would forget to label something and then I’d have to throw the whole vial away and then there were also times where I would put one male in an all-female vial and biology would happen and a few days later I would see pupae at the bottom of the vial. Curses.
  7. Analogies are your friends. They really are, especially when explaining things to your parents who are curious about what you’re doing over the summer.
  8. Things don’t necessarily go my way. Frustration is just part of the research experience. I mean why did I assume they were going to in the first place?

There are probably a lot of other points I’m missing, but these are the essentials.

At least by the end of this, I’ll have had my fun with all of these fruit flies and actually learned how to distinguish males from females with the naked eye (I know, very impressive). One of my favorite parts about being part of this lab is finding the abnormalities and just staring in wonder, thinking, “wow, science is pretty weird…but very cool”. I’m grateful for this opportunity and for doing things I never imagined myself doing.

It’s been fun.

I guess, to be continued…

I’ll just leave this here. Credit: http://drosophiladrawings.blogspot.com (these drawings are amazing)

Science and More Science

I thoroughly enjoyed these seminars. Not only did I learn more about other research that I might not have thought of exposing myself to, but I also got to know how these researchers became…researchers. To be completely honest, it’s nice hearing from the researchers who didn’t see themselves as researchers from their early undergraduate years.

Out of all of the seminars, it was really difficult to choose only one to talk about, so I’ve decided to pick two! I promise to keep it short-ish.

First up, Dr. Anne West, since her seminar is still fresh in this forgetful brain of mine. One question that she brought up was why she wanted to be a basic scientist. There are so many people who really look for research that will show immediate/direct benefits in real world applications. However, like what Dr. West explained through her captivating storytelling, basic science is so essential. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to progress as much as we have thus far. The fact that CRISPR was essentially discovered 30 years before it became popular in the science world is just mind blowing. Research that might seem pointless at first, might have a very important role in the future. On top of that, her research is really interesting. I wasn’t aware that neurons could change so much so quickly.

She really reminded me of why I like science so much; why I want to become a researcher. My love for epigenetics just keeps increasing!

Next up: Dr. Gersbach. His lab really interested me because he said that even though he’s known to be fiddling around in biomedical engineering, his colleagues don’t really consider him and his lab to be “biomedical engineering”. Instead, his lab and interests lie in many different fields, which is completely relatable. Who is only interested in one very specific topic their whole life? (okay, probably quite a few people, but I rest my case) He doesn’t want to limit himself. Out of all of this research this summer, I’ve kind of learned that each lab is a bit isolating. You could become lost within the narrow scope that your lab focuses on and not know what’s going on in the rest of the researching world. The fact that Dr. Gersbach is so willing to explore other fields and defy, I guess, labels is pretty cool. His research itself is very interesting because, even though I have absolutely no knowledge about engineering, I become completely intrigued whenever gene editing or genetic engineering is brought up (I’m a genome/epigenome freak, what can I say). It’s just so interesting to me, that I’d be willing to read articles upon articles on it (maybe).

Can you sense how interested and excited I am with all of this science? Can you? Because I think I can.

I guess all this proves that…science is cool.

The beginning of the poster struggle

My abstract draft:

Will they learn to court? 
Studying the role of Or47b in drosophila courtship learning behavior

Behaviors are made up of both innate and plastic components and courtship is no exception. It has been discovered that courtship can be learned in drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies), given that the innate component is absent. However, we do not know the exact mechanism that enables this learning. In this study, we are focusing on the olfactory system because we hypothesize that olfaction is important in learning; more specifically that Or47b is a key olfactory receptor neuron that regulates the learning of courtship behavior. To do this, we are using fru mutant fruit flies and fru and Or47b double mutant fruit flies and group housing them with other males or females for a few days and then observing their courtship behavior. We are currently waiting for results, however if our hypothesis is correct, we expect the double mutant fruit flies to not court even after group housing them. These results could better our understanding of the mechanisms driving behavior changes in general.

Chalking it Up to Science

Everyone did such an amazing job with their chalk talks this week, given that no one had really done one before. New knowledge has been acquired from all of this. Success! To be honest, it was a bit nerve-racking, especially since public speaking is not a forte of mine and for some others. The thing about a chalk talk, it seems very informal, but then you realize that everything in the experiment must be pretty much understood, and then, in my case, you realize that there are a lot of holes to cover up and a lot of jargon scattered about. It’s an informal, yet you must be very prepared, kind of presentation. Also, the time limit. Not a fan of that pressure.

Out of all the great talks and the great experiments, I’ve decided to write about Maddie Go’s experiment, The effect of Spine Morphology on Puncture Mechanics.

So, what really interested me in her experiment was the definition of “spine”. Like what Maddie said at the beginning of her chalk talk, when I hear “spine” I think of our backbones, but I learned that the actual definition of a biological spine is “a rigid structure that comes to a point” (taken from Maddie). I hadn’t thought of it like that before. The examples that Maddie provided kind of blew my mind, because of how different each spine was. She also mentioned that these spines all have similar functions despite the diversity (I don’t usually correlate a rose and a sting ray together). These spines are so different in their structure, yet they essentially have the same function (puncturing things) so how does this difference in structure change the way it is used (Maddie’s question)? Just got to say, science is pretty cool in this way; the way that depending on the environment things can develop so differently, yet have a similar function to other things/organisms and vice versa.

The applications that Maddie brought up were also really intriguing. I wouldn’t have thought that this type of research would be so important in, for example, the medical area, because I don’t usually think about how this research is considered when trying to make maybe a needle to increase its ease for puncturing the skin and then coming out. I think I just assume that the medical area has all of that kind of figured out? However, there’s always room for improvement. It’s some nice brain food to mull over.

Thank you, Maddie, and thank you to everyone else for sharing their research projects!

A Day in the Life of a Flyentist

(That title sounded better in my head)

My day begins with a reminder that I should probably go to the gym more often (never knew three flights of steps could wind me so much).

Thus begins my entire day of staring at fruit flies. Yup, that’s about it.

To be more specific, I usually start off by checking all of the boxes of flies that were entrusted to me. This “checking” consists of me looking to see if any flies had eclosed (came out of their pupa) over night.

Stages of a fruit fly (credit: http://www.devbio.net/node/112)

If there are any, I bring out the CO2 needle (very maniacal) and gas out the flies so they’re nice and docile (no flies were harmed in the process – kind of). This allows me to move them around underneath a microscope to check if they are males or virgins very easily. I sort them into their respective vials and then onto the next vial of flies. It’s an endless cycle. However, I do sometimes see some surprising findings in my fruit fly hunts. (I apologize for the fuzzy pictures. I do admit though, it’s a bit difficult to take pictures through a microscope)

Picture I took in the lab. No idea what’s in the wing, but it’s quite creepy and alive.

Picture I took in the lab. Apparently sometimes during development, something goes wrong and water ends up in the wing.

Picture I took in the lab. I don’t know what happened.

Picture I took in the lab. Also don’t know what happened.

 I also take pupa off of some vials and put them into their own vials, solely for the purpose of making sure that the flies grow in isolation their entire lives. But of course, I only need males and particular males at that with specific markings. Any flies that don’t match up with what I want unfortunately take a trip down the funnel into the liquid death trap (still feel bad about this sometimes, but they do escape occasionally).

Recently, I have begun testing the isolated flies. This calls for prepping at 10 am (the moment I get into lab). I have a time limit because flies have their own active hours around 10-11 am and 5-6 pm (who knew? I sure didn’t). The prep consists of desperate sucking from my part (I’ve learned that I have no sucking power). I suck on some tubing in order to capture the fly, so I can transfer him or her into one of the wells of the mating chamber.

The fancy mating chamber I’m using! In this position, the males and females are separated from each other.

This is called air aspiration. After all the tedious work is completed, I move the mating chamber so that the males’ and the females’ wells line up with each other and allow them to interact (told you this mating chamber was fancy).

Here, the mating chamber has been moved so that the males and females can now interact with each other.

 Then I just record them and wait for them to court or not court. Some of them really just jump on top of each other.

By 5-6 pm, I’m either doing a last check on all the flies or I’m preparing for another test.

A bit tedious, but all in a day’s work I guess.

Will they mate?

Because of my research project, I’ve begun to think fruit flies are kind of cute.

ok, I admit…they look cuter in person (credit: http://theconversation.com/animals-in-research-drosophila-the-fruit-fly-13571)

My research project revolves around connecting a particular pathway in the brain to a particular behavior. Here is some background information: in the research realm of drosophila (fruit flies), researchers have identified this gene called fruitless (fru). Researchers rely on this gene as a marker that identifies sex-specific behavior pathways in the nervous system. Interestingly enough, only males have a working copy of this gene. We are particularly interested in olfactory system and olfactory receptor neurons which have a large part in the fru pathway (and also have a huge impact in just the daily life of a fruit fly). Researchers have found that fru mutant males (basically males with a nonfunctional version of fru) usually do not court or there’s very diminished courtship, unless they learn to court (similar to conditioning in a way). This learning is not limited to only other female fruit flies of the same species though. And this is where my research project begins.

A previous research paper was able to identify key players in this sex-specific behavior pathway. Even more importantly, they found that courtship behavior can be adaptable – which makes sense. As said by my mentor, if a species can’t adapt then it’s dead (essentially). That is what I’m focusing on. I am currently trying to see if an olfactory receptor neuron known as Or47b is an essential key factor in this adaptable behavior pathway.

Pretty picture just to show where the olfactory receptor neurons go (credit: http://menuz.lab.uconn.edu/)

As of now, researchers know Or47b to be important in socializing for fruit flies. It correlates to courtship, however it attracts a fly to both females and males (it is not gender specific). We are hypothesizing that olfactory senses and thus Or47b is significant to learning courtship. To test this, I am using many different mutants of fruit flies (and oh my goodness are there a lot for me to handle) and then putting them through different mating tests to track any patterns. For example, in one scenario I put one male fruit fly from each mutant line into its own little vial and leave him there for about 4-6 days and then put him and a wildtype virgin female (up until this research project I never realized how important virgin flies were) into a mating chamber – yes, a mating chamber and a very exquisite one at that.

Similar mating chamber to what I use (but mine’s fancier-ish) (credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSBalKckyDM)

Then I just watch them creepily for about 10 minutes and record which pairs mated and which didn’t. I am also planning to take isolated male flies and group them with other female flies (and maybe other male flies) for about a week and then test them everyday in the mating chamber with one other female virgin to see what happens. Hopefully, I’ve explained the gist of what I’m doing.

So currently my mentor is studying many things in her lab including how neuronal circuits interact with each other and produce a particular behavior. She is also studying how these behaviors are regulated and how it sometimes leads to adaptation. She is very interested in the development aspect of fruit flies, especially in the olfactory circuitry. This all directly correlates with my project because my project makes use of an already identified neural circuitry and tries to see how one particular neuron receptor can affect the whole thing, including the end result (the behavior of the fruit flies). This is all to explore more into the complex nervous system and try to understand what’s going on and how behavior is what it is.

New Perspectives

Dr. Pelin Volkan

Dr. Pelin Volkan. It all began in Istanbul, Turkey for her where she attended Bogazici University as an undergraduate and received her B.S. and M.S. in molecular biology and genetics. She knew early on that she wanted to have a career in academia (kind of similar to me!). She became fascinated in the development of organisms and how complexity is generated, which is why she stuck with the nervous system (one of the most highly complex systems). “It’s a system that scans our environment and can determine behavior,” she told me. The more she researched, the more addicting it became to her. She cultivated a love for hypotheses, testing ideas, and of course getting answers. She then came to the U.S. and attended UNC Chapel Hill for her Ph.D. in biology, mainly concentrating in genetics and developmental biology. Afterwards, she attended UCLA for her postdoc, where she studied the development of neural factory circuits in Drosophila.

Although her life revolves around science, she does not only focus on the science aspect. She finds art within biology, which many scientists may not. She told me that there are creative processes needed for science to happen. For example: creating experiments. I certainly had not thought of that before.

After asking Dr. Volkan what she would change in the science community she replied by saying she believes that the science community has a bit too much ego and sometimes this ego leads to faking data. She believes that science should be more collaborative and have more communication between different labs and even different disciplines. There are so many things to learn from everyone. She told me that every lab has a very narrow, specific topic that they research, so it’s easy to become isolated in a way. This is why she likes teaching, especially general courses. She ends up learning a lot. Teaching allows her to leave her comfort zone and branch out into other disciplines.

Currently, Dr. Volkan is working with Drosophila. I was curious why, of all organisms, Drosophila? She simply stated, “because they’re easier” – you can ask questions and almost immediately get some answers. Also, in one of her previous labs she worked with rats. They’re not exactly her favorite.

It has only been two weeks, but I have already learned so much from Dr. Volkan, from just her viewpoints on the world and science in general. She casually just slips in words that I have never heard before and concepts I have never thought of before.

And so it begins..

What would a person normally expect from a summer research experience? Probably meeting new people, getting to know what goes on in a research lab, maybe even being part of some exciting experiments. I guess I have similar expectations. I see this research experience as an opportunity to not only learn more about research and the process while also getting to know other people, but also to better myself as a whole. A bit cliché, but only the truth. I am a pretty reserved person with some self-doubt sprinkled throughout. I’m hoping that this research experience could help me open up a bit; not be too critical about the small, trivial details and become more confident as a person and as a researcher. I’ll also take this opportunity to gauge where my interests lie. Hopefully, by the end of this, I will still want to continue on becoming a researcher. However, I don’t really know what I should expect. It might be more accurate to say, I don’t want to expect too much. Unrealistic expectations can be dangerous.

The lab I work in uses fruit flies in their experiments. My previous research experience is limited to one small research project done with my friends in high school based around plants. I’ve never done anything with living organisms. I usually swat at flies – not exactly the best thing to do in this lab. So, I’m also hoping to learn a bit about fruit flies; maybe even develop a likeness to them. Maybe I’ll even learn to understand them! (that might be a stretch).

Like mentioned before, I don’t have much experience in research; all of this is new to me, so I’ll look forward to everything that comes my way. Also, very cliché. I was told that despite what happens, I’ll learn from everything, even the mistakes. Actually, especially the mistakes. The one definite thing that I expect is to make mistakes. All in all, hoping for the best and looking forward to some tasteful mistakes.

Attempting to sort through a group of fruit flies