These past two days have been every bit as much fun as I thought they would be. We’ve been helping Jenny do a Western Blot; it’s been really interesting to see the work that Jenny is currently doing and on which she will soon publish a paper. I felt like a true chemist when I got to prepare the wash for the membranes and then mix the antibodies. What we originally thought were mouse antibodies (that we’d put on yesterday) turned out to be guinea-pig and rabbit, so we used donkey-anti-guinea-pig and goat-anti-rabbit antibodies instead.

When we went downstairs to the darkroom, just getting through the door was exciting; it was like a tardis! You have to walk into a small circular chamber which you spin round, and at one point you are in total darkness before emerging into the darkroom. You could easily imagine yourself traveling through time! Maybe my imagination was working overtime, but I found it very exciting. What we did next was even cooler; once everyone was in the darkroom (which wasn’t actually dark yet, as all the lights were on) Jenny sorted out the work space and then plunged us back into total darkness until our eyes adjusted to the faint red lights. Jenny then took x-rays of the membranes with the proteins and antibodies on them and we waited for the results to print out.

After comparing our results back at the lab we discovered that there was a potential problem: one of the controls looked the same as the modified samples instead of looking like the other two controls. This could mean two things: either the entire experiment had failed and we’d have to do it again, or it was simply that the control was protein-deficient in general. If it was the latter, it would be fine. But we could not be sure this was the case until we tested it with a completely different antibody that should show up the same on all the samples: if the control truly was protein-deficient, then the x-ray line would be fainter. We shall find out tomorrow, the mystery plot continues…

And now we come to the highlight of the day: the super confocal microscope! It was absolutely awesome. We went downstairs with Jenny and her collection of slides to a small room with a cool swanky looking microscope which had a separate set of dials and was linked up to a computer where we could see the images of the cells. The first one was a normal control cell where they all looked round and happy. Jenny then put on a slide where a gene had been knocked out and this had made the cells all spiky. And they were so spiky! So we got to search for a cell that looked particularly impressive, and when we put it up on the screen I swear it looked like a person. Well, a cell with a bit sticking out that looked a bit like a head, with a very spiky torso, two misshapen arms, one leg and a tail. We named it Spike, which we thought was very appropriate. But the next one we found was even more impressive, being spikier and more dramatic than Spike. Perhaps no one else really saw it this way, but I was pretty sure that it looked like a very spiky bird on a very thorny branch, with a huge strange pointy slug sitting randomly in the top right corner of the field. But it got a name too – we called it Tweet. 🙂

I used my phone to take loads of photos of Jenny and Alan doing cool things in the lab (mostly working in the hood and making the gel for the proteins), but unfortunately they seem to be stuck in there and so I can’t show them to everyone yet. 🙁 Though hopefully I’ll be able to post the images from the microscope soon. They looked so amazing and beautiful – and as they looked quite alien, for once I think calling them “out of this world” really is appropriate. 🙂

So I’m looking forward to another day in the lab, and with any luck we’ll get to see our results! And then the day after that, we’ll see our cells that have had a gene knocked down – and I’ll be able to see how getting rid of Jenny’s pet gene affects the shape of my cells!