You might remember a couple of months ago, around the May exams I found out I had got funding for a placement in a lab at uni to work on a research project over the summer. Well now exams are all over and I’ve had a few weeks in the Italian sun (check out my last two posts), and it’s time to start my placement.
This week I started my internship in Dr Hammond’s lab which is in the Adrian building on campus. I have a grant from The Genetics Society to spend 8 weeks working on a project. My project’s objective is to look at whether the incidence of triploidy in ants (Leptothorax acervorum) correlates with genetic variation and levels of inbreeding. I will be using microsatellites to investigate this (microsatellites are short, repeated DNA sequences – the number of repeats varies between individuals so this can be used as a mean of identification).
But reaching that goal seems a long way off right now, this week I’ve been finding my feet in the lab. As an undergrad our lab experience is usually limited to controlled lab sessions. These usually have a defined final aim and everyone doing a module will all work through a related lab procedure and certain things that a big group of people can’t do are done by lab technicians for us (like making the agarose gels). This is obviously not the case in a research lab. This week has been spent learning the different methods I will need to use throughout my project. I have been doing some DNA extractions, amplifying the target DNA using a PCR cycler and then running them on electrophoresis gel to check that the target DNA of the right size is there. These samples can then be cleaned up and sequenced.
For the DNA extraction I have used a technique called Hotshot. This basically means you heat your sample with an alkaline lysis reagent at 95˚C for half an hour and then cool it to 4˚C before adding a neutralising reagent. It’s a really simple way to extract the DNA.
I have then been using PCR (which you will learn about in your first year of a biosciences degree and will use in most genetics modules) to amplify a section of DNA and then I have run them on the agarose gel to check that the DNA has amplified. Both of these techniques are taught to undergrads, so it has been great to have the opportunity to use them in a proper lab. I’ve also learnt how to make my own agarose gels and how to use the PCR cycler (which are done by the lab technicians in our taught labs).
The most challenging part of my first week has been having confidence in my own knowledge and ability to do these things without having someone with me to check I’m not doing something stupid, but I am enjoying the freedom to work on my own. I’m definitely learning a lot and am excited to work on this project over the summer.
Look out for a post at the beginning of September about my trip to Edinburgh to present my work at an event ran by The Genetics Society! As for August I’ll be writing about preparing to start uni; including how to make your room feel like your home, basic recipes to get you through the busy first month and what to expect in your first week!