I know, I know, this is really late. I am just now getting time to ponder of the experience I had this summer, but words cannot express how thankful I am for being able to participate in BSURF this summer. The friends I made, the faculty talks, and the research experience all made this summer very special and one that I will truly cherish. I was honestly so nervous beginning this program. I was so nervous about not being smart enough and I was nervous that I was not going to enjoy research. But with all new experiences, I believe uneasiness can be a good thing. It’s good to come out of your comfort zone, and the fact that participating in this new experience initially made me uneasy (but excited of course) meant that in some way, what I was about to do was important for my growth as an individual. I can happily say that this program did cause me to grow– in academic knowledge, confidence, knowing my strengths and weaknesses, and setting new goals for myself. Furthermore, BSURF has definitely influence my career endeavors because research is definitely something I want to do again in the future.
As I elaborated on in my previous post, one aspect that I really enjoyed about BSURF was the faculty talks. I really liked how the faculty not only talked about their research interests, but their own career paths–the ups and downs– and how it got them to where they are. This was really influential to me because I was able to see and understand that although things may not always go as planned, life works its way out.
I just want to give a special thank you to the people in my lab for making me feel welcome. I also want to thank my mentor, Connor, for teaching me about different aspects of research and allowing me to work on your project. Furthermore, I want to thank my PI, Dr. Calakos, for letting me obtain this initial research experience from your lab. Finally, I want to thank Dr. Grunwald and Jason for this summer and for facilitating my, and my fellow peers, ability to make connections with professors and important faculty in the various fields of biological sciences. Man, this was such a fun summer and I hate to see it end, but I know this experience is only the beginning and has provided me with a clearer lens of what I want to do in the future. 🙂
One of my favorite activities of the BSURF program was the opportunity for all of my classmates and I, along with Dr. Grunwald and Jason, to gather in the early hours of the day to listen to inspiring scientists discuss their research focus and their academic path towards this focus.
From Dr. Schmid’s focus on extremophiles, to Dr. David’s focus on microbiomes, I learned so much about aspects of science that I had never even heard of before. One faculty talk that really intrigued me was Dr. Noor’s talk on evolution and genetics. In his talk, Dr. Noor explained that evolution is comprised of two processes: changes within a current lineage and formation of a new lineage. He then discussed one of his current research ideas about recombination and what happens to differentiation of species if recombination is stopped. He studies this in Drosophilia (fruit flies). From my understanding, one of his broader goals is to examine how new species are formed and how they are sustained through genetic inheritance.
One thing I really liked about Dr. Noor’s faculty talk is his ability to explain his research project in a fun, interesting, and lively way. He also really brought to light the intersections of science and society through his discussion of the current political climate on evolution. I could definitely understand his concern about the lack teaching of evolution in grade school, having seen this phenomenon in my own high school biology class. Another aspect of Dr. Noor’s talk that I really enjoyed was his discussion of evolution as it applies to other sciences, including medicine. Specifically, he discussed how evolution could explain antibiotic resistance to bacterial diseases/ infections, as well as mosquito-borne diseases. Prior to this, I had never even know that this was a growing problem. Overall, I think it was really interesting to see how Dr. Noor’s research can help increase our understanding of evolution. Hopefully I can have a chance to take one of his classes in the future!
Dystonia is a neuromuscular disorder in which muscles make involuntary contractions, leading to abnormal and often times repetitive movements. It has been found that a common mechanism for several types of dystonia—each characterized by the gene adversely affected—was an impairment in ISR signaling. (Rittiner, et al,) Furthermore, the alleles causing dystonia have incomplete penetrance. Thus, individuals who have the dGAG mutation for dystonia could either be manifesting—individuals who exhibit the disorder—or non-manifesting—individuals who do not have the disorder but have the mutation. This project will focus on this idea of manifesting and non-manifesting patients with the dGAG mutation through the examination of exosomes and other extracellular vesicles. Specifically, this research explores the potential for exosomes to be biomarkers for the difference in manifesting and non-manifesting disease states, because exosomes are known for their role in intracellular communication and disease progression. To test this possibility, ultracentrifugation is being utilized to isolate exosomes from patient fibroblasts grown in conditioned media. Then, a bicinchoninic acid assay was run to examine protein content in both cell lysates and extracellular vesicle samples. For further testing, the plan is to run a western blot utilizing antibodies that will indicate whether or not exosomes were enriched, and then to send these samples to another lab for further testing. Potential results would be that there may be a difference in the RNA and protein composition of the exosomes between the manifesting and non-manifesting. There may also be a difference in the production of exosomes between the manifesting and non-manifesting. Finally, there could be no significant difference between these states.
In my lab, not every day is the same. Depending on what is going on with our project, some days may be busy days, and some days may be “waiting” days, when we are waiting for our experiments to run. As I stated in my chalk talk, the main thing my mentor and I are working on is isolating exosomes and looking at exosomal biomarkers.
When I walk into lab, I ask my mentor what the plan is for the day and we discuss any bench work that needs to be done. These past few weeks, my mentor has been running trial experiments to isolate the exosomes (exosomes are kind of hard to isolate) so we can send them off to another lab for further analysis on the proteomics and RNA sequencing. As a result, on any given day, my mentor could be running an ultracentrifugation, a bicinchoninic acid assay, doing a western blot, or passaging the cell lines for the project, and I just try to assist wherever I can. On days where we are waiting for one of these experiments to conclude (i.e. ultracentrifugation or western blots), we usually try to find someone else in the lab who is working on something that I want to learn about. For example, last Friday I ran my first PCR for one of my lab member’s project, so that was pretty exciting! Overall, I will say that I have learned a lot and I really admire every one of my lab members and the projects they are working on. I definitely wish I could contribute more to the lab, but I guess with time comes experience!
I really enjoyed listening to everyone’s talk this week! I learned a lot about neural circuitry, oxidative stress, and even the work that goes into gRNA design! One project that really stood out to me was Christine’s, titled: Identifying differences in Stress between Alpha and Low-Ranking male Baboons. Specifically, Christine is looking at whether or not the alpha and the low-ranking male baboons experience different sources of stress. I think what I really like about this project is the fact that it incorporates both a psychological and a biological perspective in addressing this question. Furthermore, I can really see the direct application this study will have on humans in terms of understanding stress and factors that cause it.
From my understanding, Christine’s hypothesis is that the alpha and the low-ranking male baboons do experience different forms of stress: with the alpha experiencing energetic stress and the low-ranking baboons experiencing psychosocial stress. When comparing the two baboons, she expects the alpha male to have lower levels of triiodothyronine because energetic stress suppresses this hormone. Last spring, I took an introductory neuroscience class, and we learned about the hormonal response to stress, and I think that it is awesome that Christine is applying her knowledge of this response to stress to understand how it is affected across different types of stress (psychosocial, energetic, etc.)
I think Christine was very clear in her explanation of her project, which I find to be really important in presenting a project because if you can’t convey your message in easy-to-understand words, what’s the point? She delivered her presentation in such a way that someone who is not in her field would understand it perfectly.
My mentor–Connor — is from North Carolina and is about to finish his final year at Duke. He plans on majoring in biology with a minor in neuroscience. According to him, his interest in these two fields began when he first took an introductory neuroscience class during the fall of his freshman year. At this time, he was in the Pratt School of Engineering pursuing a major in environmental engineering. While he did like engineering, he knew that he also had an interest in the intersections of biology and neuroscience. After taking a medical leave for six months, he returned back to Duke and transferred to the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, where he sought out to study this intersection. He credits his medical leave as a major factor in deciding to pursue a career in medicine.
While Connor is pre-med, he plans to take a gap year to potentially work in the research field as a lab manager. Other possible plans he has thought to pursue are temporary careers in technical work, medical scribing, and in general, pursuing activities to strengthen clinical experience. When I asked Connor what piqued his interest in getting involved in research, he expressed his desire to examine the quantitative aspects of biology and neuroscience– engaging in quantitative research experiments to answer and even create questions. He didn’t want to just read about research experiments in the textbook- he wanted to see and to even conduct research that was related to neuroscience and biology. So, Connor emailed professors and interviewed with my current PI, Dr. Calakos, and was interested in the way she conducted the interview–she asked questions that would challenge his scientific mind and cause him to think in a different way. Once he was comfortable working in the lab, he then started taking on independent projects.
During our interview, Connor also elaborated a bit on his first research experience, any lab disasters the has had so far in his research experience, as well as any accomplishments he is proud of. His first academic research experience was during the pre-orientation Project Search. During the program, students learn valuable lab techniques by doing the labs from Duke’s molecular biology class. Similar to BSURF, students listen to faculty talks and participate in Intro to Science Seminars. So far, Connor has not had any major lab disasters, but he says that he sometimes falls into autopilot mode when doing tedious benchwork, especially during a western blot analysis and pipetting samples. Finally, in terms of accomplishments, Connor is most proud of his ability to take on independent projects in a lab as an undergraduate and working on things that no one else in the lab is doing, as well as “pioneering the way” for certain experimental protocols.
This summer, my mentor and I will be examining the role of intracellular structures-specifically, the biomarkers of these structures–in neurological movement disorders.
One of the main techniques that we will be using for this is western blotting. Western blotting is an analytical technique used to detect specific proteins. First, the proteins are denatured by the addition of sodium dodecyl sulfate, and then the samples undergo gel electrophoresis. Then, the excess primary antibodies are washed off, and finally, secondary antibodies are added to react with the primary antibodies. The secondary antibodies allow for protein visualization. Another technique we will be using is centrifugation. As the name implies, centrifugation is the process of spinning a mixture so its contents will be separated.
For this project, there is a large focus on isolating biomarkers. In cell biology, biomarkers can be used to understand susceptibility of disease or to even characterize the progression of a disease. For the purposes of our study, my mentor and I will be analyzing proteomic biomarkers, which can detect a variety of biological changes in the body.
I truly enjoy being a part of this project, because of the clinical applications that the results of this project may have, and its potential to begin a conversation in this particular field about new diagnostic measures and pharmaceutical treatments.
This summer, through the B-SURF program, I will be working in Dr. Calakos’ lab. During these next eight weeks, there are many opportunities that I hope to have. I hope that this summer will be a great learning experience.
One of the biggest expectations I have for this summer is for myself to determine if biological research is something that I want to continue. Although I have some experience in statistics research, I have never worked in a wet lab before, outside of class requirements. As such, I hope that I can learn about different lab experiments, like how we can collect data from biological specimens. Furthermore, I hope to even have the chance to practice experimental protocol as well. I have already learned so much in this first week from my awesome mentor as well as from the wonderful people in my lab. There is always something new that I learn every day, and although the learning curve feels a bit steep right now from inexperience, my main goal is to use this summer as a way to witness firsthand the value of research and science in a way that is transcendent above regular classroom work.
Similarly, during this summer, I expect to foster my ability to ask important questions and my critical thinking. Even if at the end of this program I conclude that biological research is not something I would like to pursue- though I do not think this will happen- I believe that from this experience I will learn the ability to solve problems, ask questions, and think creatively and critically, which will all be important in any career I decide to pursue.
Another expectation I have for myself is that I will make a contribution- however big or small- to the project I will be working on. I hope that the end-of-program poster session will be a success and that I will be able to explain the project as best as I can.
Finally, I hope to form new and lasting relationships with my colleagues in Dr. Calakos’ lab, as well as my peers in the B-SURF program. I would probably consider myself a relatively introverted and shy person, but I hope to put myself out there and be less nervous when talking to people about my interests and what I hope to achieve.