Epigenetics and English: a 2-week introduction
Epigenetics and English: Jan Deffner, a student from Munich, describes what he learned during two-week work experience placement in Wolf Reik’s group
Every 9th grade (14-year old) student in Germany is required to take part in an internship or work experience placement and I was unsure what I wanted to do. I’ve always been interested in science and therefore I asked if it would be possible to visit Wolf Reik’s lab at the Babraham Institute for my work experience. After a little preparation and paperwork, I arrived in the lab, ready for a two-week placement.
The first week started with an introduction to Epigenetics from Diljeet, a PhD student in Wolf’s lab, who explained the basics. There was a lot of new information for me and I learnt a lot more than I had in school, it was all very interesting. Diljeet explained what his PhD project was about and taught me some of the laboratory techniques that he uses during his work, including cell culture. He also explained the computer programs he uses to analyse his data, such as Rstudio and Seqmonk.
During the second week, I worked on my own mini project which was great fun. In each of the different stages of the project, I was working with a different scientist and was able to learn about their research. My project explored the differences between mouse embryonic stem cells and mouse embryonic fibroblasts (a type of cell which helps to maintain the structure of the body by producing chemicals such as collagen).
To investigate this topic, we had to use a lot of different experimental techniques. First, I started by preparing cells of each type for imaging and RNA extraction. The next step was to decide which genes to investigate further by analysing data from the sequencing machine. With the extracted RNA, we carried out qPCR to identify how much mRNA for each gene was in each sample. To prepare the cells for imaging we labelled the cells using antibodies and used the Imaging Facility to inspect the cells. Finally, we analysed the data from the qPCR and the Imaging Facility to see the differences between the two cell types. I really enjoyed the project because it was a great way to learn how scientists work, and because I was able to carry out many of the techniques for myself rather than watch someone else do them!
Overall, the placement was a very interesting and useful experience for me and I’m very grateful to Christel, Diljeet, Celia, Julia, Fatima and the other members of Wolf Reik’s research group for giving me the chance to learn about life in a lab. It was quite a challenge, especially to learn everything in English.