Throughout the summer, I have been participating in what is my very first research experience. Apart from learning and doing techniques for the first time, the biggest challenge this summer has been trying to explain what I have been doing for the past month and a half to people that have asked me. My host’s research laboratory works on trying to understand the molecular mechanisms behind heart diseases, specifically working with the mitochondria. This organelle, also known as the “powerhouse of the cell”, is the one responsible for producing energy inside the cell. My project is focused more on mitochondrial dynamics, the fusion and fission processes the mitochondria go through to maintain their relative stability, and the proteins that facilitate them. I have been working to measure and quantify the presence of these proteins in different populations of mitochondria; and recently, I have been checking to see if these proteins become acetylated in samples that have gone through ischemia/reperfusion. Ischemia/reperfusion injury, also known as IR, occurs when the heart tissue is deprived of oxygen and nutrients; then goes through a period of reperfusion, when blood rushes back into the system. This sudden re-oxygenation period causes damage to the heart tissue. If fusion and fission proteins have become acetylated, inactivated due to the addition of an acetyl group, they could be affecting the stability of the mitochondrial population and possibly furthering damage during IR injury.
Life as a Scientist
Being that this is the first time I’ve worked in a research laboratory, it’s been great to finally have the chance to apply some of the knowledge I’ve acquired in my classes to something tangible; or understanding how various subjects I’ve learned from are applied in real life. I’ve spent the last six or seven weeks learning and improving my techniques in order to measure protein expression. In practices and even in actual runs, we’ve gone over procedures that take pretty much a whole day in order to eliminate possible errors with results. Currently, we’re working with the data we’ve gotten to see if we have to run more experiments in the next few weeks.
I guess the most surprising thing about this summer has been that the life as a scientist runs as a normal nine-to-five workday. Sure, there have been some instances that we stay later than usual or come in earlier to get things done; however, I had imagined something very different I suppose. Working as part of a lab team has been a great experience, mostly because you learn to have responsibility as a scientist and a coworker. Many of the areas and materials are used by everyone in the lab, so it becomes your responsibility to keep everything organized and stocked. You tend to think about leaving things in the order that you would like someone else to leave them. Apart from that, helping anyone out in the team goes a long way, because at the end of the day, we are all working towards the same goal.