Choose one, they said. It will be easy, they said.

Last week, all seventeen BSURF fellows presented 8-minute chalk talks to explain their research to the class, and wow, everyone had such interesting research questions. My assignment at the end of all of the presentations: to write about one of my peer’s research.

Every person convinced me of the importance of their research question, which made me really want to know the answers to their questions. Of course, in the research world, answers cannot be obtained within a few seconds from existing data on the Internet. The answers are yet to be discovered. That said, as I listened to the diverse methods that have been formulated in an attempt to answer the overarching research questions, I thought long and hard. How does one devise experimental methods that take into account all possible confounding factors?

One of the many presentations that piqued my curiosity is that of Annika, whose lab focuses on how microbiomes of mice are affected by chronic social defeat. Previous research indicates that gut bacteria are important in brain development and function. What interests me the most is her explanation of the social defeat paradigm, which is used to induce social defeat (as a model for depression) in mice. The method her lab uses involves combining aggressive mice and subject mice in the same cages to encourage the aggressive mice to attack the subject mice. Once the subject mice are, I would assume, terrorized, the subject mice and aggressive mice are divided, but kept in close proximity to each other for 24 hours so that, although the aggressive mice cannot physically abuse the subject mice, the subject mice can still see their attackers. Imagine what it would be like to live in the same room as a bully who had just abused you, with only a glass divider to separate both of you. Now that’s a frightening thought. In the experimental method, the subject mouse must go through the same process ten times, with a different aggressive mouse each time. By the end, the hope is that the subject mice will experience “social defeat” and show symptoms of depression and anxiety. Interesting, right??

Annika’s lab in particular is working on comparing two different methods of extracting DNA from fecal samples and determining the best method. The fecal samples are collected and analyzed from the subject mice before and after they are socially defeated. I wonder how the microbiomes of socially defeated mice compare to the microbiomes of regular, happy mice! I will be excited to have Annika explain her lab’s current data to me at the poster presentation in three weeks. Until then, I must sit here and patiently ponder…

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