Friday, August 2, 2013

Through their lens: Dan Roman studies the role of genes in the single-cell embryo

This summer we're sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Dan Roman looking at nematode worms under the microscope. He submitted this photo through Instagram to CIRM's #CIRMStemCellLab collection
Dan Roman worked in the lab of Joel Rothman at University of California, Santa Barbara

This summer I worked on a research project that included the identification of new cell-cycle regulators in C. elegans. I knocked-down seven candidate genes using an RNA interference experiment and observed the result of this on the single-cell embryo. More specifically, I looked at the mitotic division of this cell as the chromosomes of the sperm and oocyte met at the prenuclei meeting point, chromosomes condensed and then segregated. Timing all of these events gave us insight into the mitotic cell-cycle regulating function of these genes in somatic cells. However, six weeks was not quite enough time to be able to identify the definite role of these candidate genes in mitotic cell-cycle regulation. In fact, this was a very important lesson for me as I learned more about the research process. Instead of doing this project for only six weeks, researchers would likely carry out this experiment and run trials for several years in order to confirm the definite function of these genes!

What I enjoyed most about my project was looking at the single-cell embryos through the advanced microscope as they divided. In doing so, I was actually able to observe the first signs of life in an organism, and I never thought I would be able to see something like that. Not only did I witness this phenomenon, but I was also able to contribute to our scientific understanding of the mechanisms and genes involved in this process of cellular development. What I found most challenging was dissecting the worm in order to extract the single-cell embryo. In doing so, we used two needles and, looking through the microscope, used the needles to cut the worms in half without scratching the slides, which was difficult for me because it required a very steady hand. Given the experience I have had this summer, a career in research would be very thrilling because one would go to work each day not knowing what they are going to find or discover and how that could improve our overall scientific knowledge.

If I was an established stem cell researcher in Californian in 2040, I would probably look back at my CIRM Creativity Award Internship as the beginning of my path. Without it, perhaps I would not be there at all and would have entered a less fulfilling career. This internship has truly exposed me to the world of research and all the thrills that it has to offer.

Dan Roman

Dan sent us this video of his experience:

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