So far this summer, I’m finding that as soon as I start feeling comfortable with my daily routine, my mentor introduces something new or I encounter new problems. Since the very beginning, the learning process has never halted, forcing me to think about how little I know about research and biology in general, even though I’ve been working in a lab for 6 weeks now and have taken 3 full years of biology courses in my life. Each week brings with it something novel, whether it’s new techniques, new ideas, or even new frustrations.
That being said, the project that I started the summer off with was very straightforward and structured, so I finished all the replications with relatively few problems a few weeks ago. Since then, I’ve moved on to working together with my mentor on her project, which she’s referred to as a “fishing expedition”: basically, we’re casting our lines out over the open sea (aka the c. elegans genome) and seeing what we get. It’s a much more open-ended experiment, and it’s come with a fair share of complications on both our parts.
For example, we’re working with mutagenized worm strains which all contain various mutations that produce the phenotype we’re looking for. However, with those mutations come several background mutations as well – mutations that result from mutagenesis but don’t contribute to the desired phenotype. These background mutations are largely neutral, but some produce detrimental effects which makes it much more difficult to proceed with certain aspects of the experiment. To combat this, we’re doing something called back crosses in an attempt to get rid of most unwanted background mutations; however, these very mutations can also prevent us from doing back crosses effectively, so it’s possible that we might be stuck with some strains with such severe mutations that they’ll never breed properly – bit of a Catch-22 there, unfortunately.
Regardless, I enjoy viewing these complications as a challenge, and although my mentor is the one thinking up all of the major solutions, I find that more and more, I’m able to find my own ways to work around smaller challenges I come up across while doing my own part in the project. Even if something can’t be solved, I still find it intriguing just to think about all the potential reasons why a problem might have arose to begin with and the sheer complexity of biological systems, even in an organism as “simple” as c. elegans.
Even with only about ten more days in the lab remaining for the summer, I’m sure I’ll still learn plenty. I’m looking forward to finishing off my B-SURF experience with a fresh perspective on biology and research as well as many great memories of all the program has had to offer these past two months!