Cloning DNA at Stanford University

McCarthy 1Having previously attended school in the area near Stanford University, I was incredibly pleased to have the opportunity to intern in a lab on campus. Professor Bianxiao Cui’s lab is on the cutting edge of truly diverse research, including optogenetic control of cellular mechanisms, axonal transport, and nanotechnology. Cui Lab represents the variety of fields which can come together to work for innovation in scientific research. While my material expenses were generously provided for, the Honors Travel Grant made this trip possible by assisting with my commute and travel costs.

The topic of my research was the optogenetic control of intracellular mechanics, such as the movement of organelles along microtubules. I worked under mentor graduate student Liting Duan primarily doing molecular cloning—the replication and amplification of a DNA containing a gene or combination of genes from a source to a host. Using this strategy, we designed and created plasmids containing a gene of interest, a gene for fluorescence, and half of a light-binding pair. We used the dimerization of these proteins to visualize and ultimately move cellular components such as mitochondria and vesicles.

CRY2PHR-CIBN is a protein pair that is formed quickly upon exposure to light. A similar system regulates everything from the opening and closing of flowers, to mouse activity cycles, to our own circadian rhythms—our schedules of wake and sleep. Here at Northeastern, Professor Fred C. Davis’s course on Biological Clocks provides an overview of such mechanisms. Circadian rhythms have been linked from everything from memory, to cardiovascular health, to neurological and psychological disorders. Light exposure is of importance not only on a cellular level but on humans as a biological system, where no change goes without an aftereffect.

The skills that I acquired over my four months of work were useful both practically and theoretically. I took part in the molecular cloning process from start to finish—from PCR primer design to observing the interactions of protein expression in transfected cells under fluorescence imaging.  Not only was I able to conduct experiments and familiarize myself with lab procedure, I was also able to observe the wide diversity of research being conducted within a single lab.  Within the course of four months, I was able to observe experiments involving neurite outgrowth, the culture of embryonic rat neurons, microfluidics, and much more. Seeing the many driven graduate and post-doctoral scholars hard at work encouraged me to constantly reform my ideas and further my understanding of science.

As a society and as a scientific repository, we are moving closer and closer to specificity: everything is becoming smaller, more precise, and more defined in the sciences as we move forward in our efforts to document and categorize. It is not enough that we know how things work; for the advancement of health and science, we must also be able manipulate and change them. It is a great honor to me to be able to study neuroscience at a great time in this field, and a great privilege for me to have had this opportunity.

C. Li McCarthy, Behavioral Neuroscience