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International experience

Posted by , on 26 November 2010

Hello, I am Terry Jackson, a 6th year PhD student in Genetics and Genomics at Duke University which is located in Durham, North Carolina, USA. I am working on my degree in the lab of Dr. Philip Benfey whose research focuses on identifying transcription factors in the root of Arabidopsis thaliana. I am pleased to have received a travel award from the journal Development for an international collaboration with Dr. Asaph Aharoni at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. His work includes investigating and identifying glucosinolates, a secondary metabolite that plants produce as a defense mechanism. Together we plan to determine the glucosinolates that are produced in many of the individual cell layers within the root. We intend to use FACS to isolate each cell type using GFP-marker lines followed by LC/MS to identify these compounds.

I knew that my trip here would be an eye-opening experience and I have not been disappointed. Thus far, I have been here for six weeks and it has been quite a grand undertaking. The planning began months before my departure by deciding the length of my stay and how much we could accomplish in that time period. Everything had to be coordinated from the date of my arrival to making sure my host lab had all of the necessary materials to scheduling time on the FACS machine. It seems simple but even now we are making adjustments and revisions.

Clearly, everyone knows that no two labs operate the same but once you get settled into a lab and into the routine you tend to forget. It is surprising the number of small details that are assumed or overlooked during planning. For instance, at Duke we have technicians that run all of the FACS samples. We only have to prepare the samples and drop them off to retrieve a couple of hours later. Here, at the Weismann Institute of Technology, they do not have technicians for this purpose; the researchers are trained to run the machines themselves. I assumed that I would drop off my samples and return to pick them up and Dr. Aharoni’s group thought I already knew how to work the machine. No one asked me about it until a week before I was scheduled to arrive if I could run the machine. Suddenly, they had to schedule training sessions for me on the FACS machine so that I could do it myself. I was very nervous about this at first but it is much easier than I thought. I consider this training to be an added bonus to my skills set as a researcher and it is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the numerous tasks I must complete each week.

My original plan was to stay here for two months but, since I needed the FACS training and we’ve had to run several test experiments, I decided it’s best to extend my stay for at least one more month. Other than the glucosinolate experiments I also intend to isolate root cells that form large inclusions under low sulfur conditions and then analyze them with LC/MS to determine their composition.  This analysis will probably be the most difficult aspect of the work I am doing here since we are trying to identify and unknown material. Furthermore, it is going to be a steep learning curve for me.  I know it is very necessary that I understand the process of completely. In the end I am sure I will return to Duke with a new perspective and knowledge of  effective collaborations.

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Categories: Funding, Lab Life, Research

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