Looking back on my experience at the Field Museum thus far, I am amazed at how much I have accomplished and learned in such a short period of time. After a few weeks of getting settled and figuring out what my project for the year was going to be, I started my research on the lice species Brueelia laticeps in late September. My first step in the process was to carefully slice the necks halfway of 11 lice to allow the DNA inside to be released during the extraction. Although my friends at school scrunched up their faces when I told them that I spent hours looking at lice through a microscope and chopping their necks in half, I honestly thought it was fun (as odd as that sounds). I got a feeling of accomplishment when I finally maneuvered the lice into the right position and managed to slice the neck halfway. Of course, through the course of the next few weeks, I came to realize that the fun had only just begun. After the "neck chopping," as I like to call it, Heather (who is amazing and is teaching and helping me with my project) did the DNA extraction. I could not help with the extraction because I can only come to the Field Museum on Wednesdays, and the extraction has to be done the day after the "neck chopping." However, I got to learn (and then do) the next part of the process - PCR. Heather and I started by doing a PCR on just one gene: CO1-Right. This gene usually has good PCR results, and we wanted to make sure the PCR worked on this one before we tried the other two genes: CO1-Left and EF1-Alpha, which sometimes do not turn out as well. Sadly, my first PCR did not work at all - there were no bands that showed upon the UV camera after we ran a gel with our PCR products. A little frustrated, we decided to put in three positive controls the next week. Unfortunately, the PCR did not work again - not even the positive controls! At this point, I think I learned my first very important lesson about science: science can be very frustrating when things are not working. However, we did not give up (another important lesson) and last week tried using different vials of primers. Finally, success! We got beautiful bright bands on the gels! Fittingly, we had also decided to do PCRs on CO1-Left and EF1-Alpha, and those PCRs also worked, although the bands were not as bright and a few samples did not work at all. This Wednesday we worked on rerunning the PCRs for the genes CO1-Left and EF1-Alpha to try to get more and brighter bands. EF1-Alpha went amazingly - the samples had bands almost as bright as CO1-Right, but CO1-Left still had some holdouts.
All in all, I have had quite a few amazing days at the Field Museum so far this year. I have gotten to do "real science" instead of just lab experiments in a science class. Although it is frustrating sometimes, I really like that things do not always work as planned - I have to think about what could have gone wrong and how to fix it. Of course, I am just starting, so I would not be able to do any of this work without Heather's wonderful help and teaching, and Jason and Shannon's support. I hope that the rest of my time at the Field Museum goes as well as the first few weeks have - I'm looking forward to many joys and frustrations to come!