By Nzuekoh Nchinda
Dipping into the Research Pool
It has only been three weeks, but this summer before my junior year is proving to be one of the most enjoyable and stimulating experiences I have ever had. It has been a wonderful introduction to the breadth and depth of the life sciences. Upon beginning my undergraduate years at Harvard College, I knew that global health was the field in which I was most passionate. Being a native of Cameroon, I am interested in eventually returning to work in hospitals and serve through international health organizations back home. Thus, scientific areas of research such as malaria and HIV/AIDS strongly resonate with me.
So naturally, Dr. Sarah Fortune’s work with tuberculosis immediately
peaked my interest. And upon meeting with her, I immediately knew that her lab was just the right way to engage in hands-on exploration of
Dr. Fortune’s laboratory, located at the Harvard School of Public Health, uses molecular biology lab techniques and new technologies to study biological problems involving Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb). Areas of interest include genetic and epidemic variation, the ESX1 secretion system—an essential mechanism that allow pathogenic bacteria to take control of host cells in the body in order to replicate, and mutability of the bacterium and consequent multidrug resistance.
I will be transforming and growing bacteria with 100+ different types of promoters that require methylation to see whether there is heterogeneity in expression in the colonies of cells from one promoter. The outcome of having some cells showing expression and others lacking expression of the lac Z reporter gene indicates the ability for the promoter to switch on and off. This suggests the phenomenon of phase variation in that promoter, which is a trait that aids the bacteria in being able to grow in rapidly changing environments without needing to have random mutations. Identification of sites that display phase variation and additional discovery of the effects of these gene sequences show the robustness of the bacterium. In other words, we are working towards the goal of identifying the parts of the bacteria’s gene that allow it to behave in more than one way. Successful results obtained with smeg are then confirmed with Mtb.
So far, the other three undergraduate students and I have been getting comfortable performing standard laboratory procedures. Through conversations with members of the lab, it has been very exciting to recognize how much I’ve learned from published articles and research symposiums and my growing independence in conducting my project. And the warm and friendly social atmosphere of the lab has only made this experience even more enjoyable. The
Fortune lab truly creates an atmosphere that encourages discovery. And it the awareness that you have become a part of this journey of discovery that makes science so uniquely exciting.