Doubling Down on DNA

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

Hi there! My name is Joanna, and this summer I will be having my first research experience as a new member of Amherst College’s Carter Lab. I’ll also be doing my online research in two different locations; the first half will be in my hometown of Torrington, Connecticut and then in Pittsfield, Massachusetts after my family and I move. Despite the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Carter Lab has decided to double down on its research efforts and continue remotely.

In the Carter Lab, the purpose of our research is to measure the motion and forces that are involved when molecules are carrying out cellular processes in order to understand how chemical energy is used to carry out work. Some of the processes studied include DNA folding in sperm, histone replacement, DNA folding in viruses, and the mechanics of cytoskeletal formation. From physics majors working with optics to biochemistry and biology majors preparing coverslips and samples, students from varying fields of study all come together in the lab to work together towards this common goal.

Before I can get to the real fun stuff, though, I’ll first have to complete a three-week online training module that every new Carter Labber must do. The contents of the module include topics such as safety trainings in both the biology and chemistry departments, design and data analysis programs commonly used in the lab, and a tutorial on how to keep a proper electronic lab notebook.

Group photo from our first summer meeting!

One of the most important elements of this training is the literature review, a step that involves reading the senior thesis of another labmate, generating questions related to the thesis, and seeking out further information on the topic through other articles. The senior thesis that I chose to read about focuses on histone replacement, a process that occurs in chromatin when a cell undergoes gametogenesis to create sex cells such as sperm cells. At some point in gametogenesis, histones are replaced by protamines, a protein that is capable of packaging DNA ten times tighter. Once I finish my training, I’ll soon be able to explore this topic in greater depth.

I also wrote a more in-depth article based on the senior’s work with histone replacement which you can view here on the Amherst STEM Network website.

When I’m not working on my research, I usually take some time to relax after such an unprecedented spring semester. So far, I’ve been indulging in crafting, from cross-stitching to sewing face masks and creating clay figurines, as well as playing online videogames. I’m also getting to know my fellow labmates better through weekly game nights where we play Pictionary or Jackbox games and during our group meetings.

As a first-generation college student, I had to seek out many resources regarding biochemistry research on my own and oftentimes did not have someone to look to for advice. Thus, my goal with blogging my first research experience is to be able to provide a further resource for those who are now in the position that I was once in. I hope that this, and my following blog posts, will be of help to you and that you will stick along for the ride!

If there is any certain topic relating to my research experience that you would like to hear about, please feel free to let me know at my email address!: