What I Learned From 10 Weeks of Experimenting

My research project focuses on the Parkin protein found in the mitochondria of the cell. Mitochondria is essentially the energy source for cells. Without it, cells, organs and eventually the body would stop functioning. It is in high abundance in muscles that need energy to contract, such as the heart. Parkin helps in removing the damaged mitochondria from the cell, making room for healthy mitochondria to thrive. If Parkin is nonfunctioning, diseases such as type two diabetes and heart disease can arise.

My project analyzes Parkin expression in the hearts of four groups of rats: lean sized rats with a sensitivity to insulin, obese rats with insulin resistance, and two groups of both obese and lean rats that were placed on a diet. Overall, this will test the effect a restricted diet has on this proteins expression in the heart. We will monitor if something as simple as a diet will bring the protein back to normal levels. If the diet proves to restore protein levels, perhaps this will become an alternative to medication for specific heart diseases.

 

Realities of Research

I started research with the expectation that if I followed the protocol, everything should go right, and I would get results. I found to my surprise, that this was a huge misconception. Sometimes reagents expire, or machinery doesn’t work properly. Sometimes the building experiences a power outage. Although this can be a little disheartening, it made me appreciate the results I did obtain so much more. In our lab we had weekly duties/ chores, and everyone helped each other out. We had a very open and friendly atmosphere. If we had some downtime, we would help another person out with their experiment. This comes in handy when trying to balance starting an experiment over, all the while saving time. The results I ended up obtaining were not what we expected. When looking for my original protein the project was based on, we couldn’t get results. We then probed for another protein in the same pathway and obtained some data. This didn’t change the research question much because the proteins were in the same pathway.

 

Life of a Scientist

The Procedure I did was western blotting. It’s a two-day procedure: one long day (~10-12 hours) followed by a short day (~3 hours). I would usually catch the bus to lab at 10 am and leave anywhere from 8 pm to 4 am (a onetime occurrence). There are about six hours of waiting during the first day, so in this time I would make gels, refill buffers, work on assignments, or eat lunch. The best parts of lab work were learning new procedures and mastering them, obtaining results, and the friendships we made. I loved working as a team. Usually, one person would excel in one area and not in the other, so we became a unit, helping each other work our way towards results. The worst part was the unpredictable schedule. I became apprehensive to making plans, whether that be for scheduling doctor appointments or spending time with family and friends, because I didn’t know if I would need to start a part of an experiment over again and stay longer than expected.

 

About the Author

Chelsy Cummings is attending the University of California Merced, Merced, CA. As a fellow in the STRIDE fellowship program, Chelsy is being hosted by Dr. Rudy M. Ortiz who is also a professor at the University of California Merced, Merced, CA. Chelsy’s future plans include studying abroad this fall. She is excited to be traveling to London to complete her studies and is looking forward to progressing her research project and presenting those findings at EB in Spring 2019. During that time, she will also be preparing for graduation and volunteering at Valley Children’s Hospital to acquire some experience in the medical field.

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