I’m back! The second quarter of Superlab started on Wednesday, and we’ve already hit the ground running with our new projects. Every quarter throughout the year we switch professors and projects, so this quarter we’re working with Professors Rachel Hoang and Judy Owen. Our project for the quarter involves studying gastrulation of the mosquito Anopheles gambiae. Gastrulation is a process during development of an embryo in which the embryo is transformed from a ball of cells into various layers of tissue. Mechanisms underlying gastrulation are related to other biological events such as the development of vertebrates and the progression of particular cancers, making the study of how this process is controlled particularly important. Previous research on this topic has focused on understanding the array of genes that control gastrulation in Drosophila melanogaster, a type of fly that’s considered a model organism. Our project for the quarter involves investigating the genes that control gastrulation in another type of invertebrate, the mosquito. Each pair of students is going to spend the quarter isolating and cloning a particular gene involved in gastrulation from the Anopheles gambiae mosquito. This will involve performing a number of different techniques, including DNA isolation, PCR, ligation and transformation, mini-preps and sequencing—many of the same techniques we used last quarter to sequence bacteria from various plants. On Monday we get to pick the gene that we’ll spend the quarter analyzing and start preparing for DNA extraction, so I’ll keep you updated!
Since hurricane Sandy threw off our schedule for the week, we held the introduction lecture on Wednesday, and visualized embryos on Friday to identify different stages of gastrulation. Each pair was given a plate with Drosophila embryos, and the goal was to identify embryos that were in different stages of development, and then observe them over a period of time as they gastrulated. The embryos all looked like tiny plankton, and identifying different stages of development was difficult due to minute differences in color and shape that separated them. Luckily, I was able to isolate six different embryos that were about to start gastrulation at stage 5, and watch as they proceeded through the four distinctive stages of gastrulation to stage 9. The class as a whole took some really good pictures of the process, so as those come in I’ll post them here (stay tuned). We also looked at fixed mosquito embryos, which were very different from the fly embryos. They looked sort of like brown bananas, and it was impossible to see the same structures that were visible in the fly embryos, indicating that gastrulation is very different between the two. It was really fun to watch the fly embryos develop, and I think this is going to be a really exciting quarter!