My interest was sparked in genetics class when Professor Mary Montgomery described RNA interference (RNAi), a Nobel prize-winning discovery that she participated in as a post-doctorate. RNAi is a pathway through which double-stranded RNA can inhibit gene expression. I was fascinated by the complexity and excited to investigate the regulation of genes through RNAi by working with Professor Montgomery.
The human genome contains many repeated genes that must be silenced so that they do not insert into other genes and cause diseases. Human genetics is complex, so it is helpful to gain a basic understanding of silencing mechanisms by studying other organisms.
In Professor Montgomery’s lab we worked with microscopic worms, Caenorhabditis elegans. Experiments are conducted using strains of C. elegans carrying green fluorescent protein (GFP) genes. In strains carrying a single GFP gene, the C. elegans germ line glows green under fluorescent light. However, in a strain possessing multiple copies of the GFP gene on another chromosome, no fluorescence is observed.
I forged new connections with my co-workers as part of a research team and in the span of 10 weeks, I learned to use new equipment, design experiments, evaluate data and troubleshoot problems, all under the guiding hand of an experienced researcher.