Pipettes, Peaks, and Harry Potter

The Harris Family Foundation Genetics Lab - the lab that has become so familiar over the past 6 weeks as I study the movement of genes through populations. Even though my commute requires an early start, I look forward to walking into that lab and starting my work every day. There are so many satisfying moments - seeing the symmetrical curvature on a good Nanodrop run, or taking pictures of clearly-defined bands on a gel, or scoring the clean, high peaks of a successful microsatellite sequence. Moments like these are my motivation for the precision and accuracy which yield good results.

These are Beckman data peaks, which represent the length of microsatellites.

Last week, I finished the microsatellite sequencing of my population maternal lines. Running the sequencing machine was a bit nerve-wracking, because all of my work led up to that point. The machine does provide the data as it is collected, but - since it takes many hours to run a single plate - the waiting game offers an excellent test of patience. On my first run, I soon noticed that the machine was only successfully reading the bottom 4 rows. Thankfully, I was able to add more ladder to the top wells and saved most of the data. Despite that minor hitch, my maternal lines yielded clean and easily-scorable peaks. Success! This week, I will be analyzing the maternal line microsatellite data with GenAlEx, a Excel program designed for genetic researchers. I also will run PCR and sequencing on the recently-extracted DNA from the progeny lines.

Yocelyn is evaluating different methods of genetic 
extraction from Onagraceae seedlings.




Each REU student is assigned their own intern, one of the high schoolers from the Garden’s College First program. I have been teaching my intern, Yocelyn, about the basic principles of Mendelian and population genetics, as well as accompanying lab techniques. Although her initial knowledge in biology was limited, she is a quick learner and now able to work independently in the lab. Since I enjoy teaching, working with Yocelyn has given me the opportunity to develop clear communication skills, especially when attempting to relay complex scientific principles.







Thankfully, the lab is not limited to problem-solving, journal-reading, or general monotony. The genetics interns especially like to joke around and have fun. Recently, we have been listening to Harry Potter audiobooks and theorizing about possible magic applications in our research. I can only imagine the possibilities in the Hogwarts greenhouses and laboratories! Still, collecting my data results and seeing the rewards of my work feels like magic in its own way.

Overall, my research progress is promising. Aside from a few more PCR and Beckman runs, much of my remaining work will be data analysis, library research, and writing. I definitely feel pressure as the end of summer approaches, but I know that I will be able to finish with a little extra elbow grease.