A Small Dose of Rumination (No Incubation Required)

And before we know it, we’re done with September.

Leaves are falling outside and so falls the first concrete thesis deadline onto my colleagues and me. This is not to say that an annotated bibliography is necessarily the most difficult of tasks, but taking the time to focus in on our collected literature and really begin to point at how our papers will come together is definitely making things feel more real.

This, however, is coming from the newbie, who hasn’t been submerged in the world of fishy fraternity that is the Williams lab for quite as long as Alex, Quang, or Maddie. Perhaps my shorter tenure with the group, along with starting up my work during the school year rather than in the summer, makes it feel like things are progressing very quickly. I like the progress though, much as I have liked the welcome from the lab group and getting to work with our scaled subjects.

This week, Maddie led a journal club in which we discussed a paper from 2002 that characterized Nfe2 and how it relates to the differentiation of red blood cells during development (“Isolation and characterization of zebrafish NFE2,” Physiological Genomics). The paper itself is one that will most likely lend itself well to my thesis, as I’ll be working directly with Nfe2 knockout fish, and I’ll need to be able to explain the structure and function of Nfe2.

Beyond the content of the discussion, I feel in general as though the journal club is a format for discussion that I really enjoy. I hadn’t really ever been in a class that was run in a journal club style until I started taking some upper level biology courses here at Bates, but I was surprised and interested to find out that this type of discussion is also commonplace in research groups in industry. When I interned at a pharmaceutical company a couple of summers ago, the research group that I worked with would meet every Monday afternoon, and one member of the lab would be tasked with making a presentation about a paper they had found related to what they were investigating, just as we’ll be doing in the Williams lab throughout the semester. Maybe normalizing such an activity is just common sense and doing this is plainly a necessity, but I like the idea of scientists together to share perspectives on a singular publication or set of findings, even if their personal projects are not the same. This is the kind of purity in scientific inquiry that I want to be involved in. It’s a great opportunity to have this type of discussion be an integral part of our education, even at its most basic level in preparing us for reading scientific literature as we enter our respective fields.

With regard to my project, my training in the lab is nearing completion for this semester. I spent this past week learning to carryout phenotypic scoring of developing fish treated with MEHP at various time points over 96 hours. Observing morphological differences between fish is not always easy and can be slightly nuanced, but it has been really interesting to read the literature that has defined phenotypic scoring. While learning standardized conventions for terminology and quantifying subjective observations, I feel like I’ve gained a bit more of an appreciation for the creativity in communication that is required to get an entire community of scientists on the same page in working with a model. This weekend, I’ll breed up a fresh batch of Nfe2 knockouts and attempt to dose and score them with the intention of real data collection. Hopefully my findings of morphological changes in nfe2 and nrf3 knockouts exposed to MEHP will gel nicely with those of Nancy Tran from last year.