Science Blog: Tube-ular cell research

As I labeled my 180th microcentrifuge tube of the morning, I wondered what the scene looked like to anyone passing by. It might have resembled another one of those images of a person in a lab coat surrounded by unfamiliar lab equipment doing some sort of tedious task. I’d like to tell you the story of my own experience in research in my three years in science at Carleton to hopefully flesh out this picture a bit more.

Over the past three years, I have learned a great deal about the fascinating biological processes that govern our lives. Two summer research grants have given me an opportunity to extend my knowledge beyond the classroom in an immunology lab. Immunology is the study of immune systems in living things.

Although I am just barely brushing the surface of the literature in this field, I believe that investing a substantial amount of time and effort into a single specific topic like this is a rewarding process because you can delve deep into one area of study. Aside from memorizing biochemical pathways, one of the most significant things I have learned in my academic training so far, is that tireless effort and patience are required to achieve meaningful results in science.

The project I was working on this summer involved the metabolic reprogramming of mouse bone marrow-derived macrophages through endotoxin tolerance.

It’s a mouthful, I know.

Macrophages are an important type of cell involved in the immune response. They act by engulfing and destroying foreign substances, as well as sending out signaling molecules to recruit other immune cells. Bacteria that invade the body often contain a compound called lipopolysaccharide (LPS) that helps indicate to the macrophages that there is a need to mount an immune response.

As critical as it is to fight off these invaders, it is also important for the body to be able to shut off this response at a certain point so as not to cause any unnecessary damage to the body. By studying macrophages, it is possible to gain a better understanding of how they turn the immune response on and off. We collected samples of macrophages treated with LPS at a series of different time points in order to look at how their metabolism was affected.

While I can’t pretend to particularly enjoy the process of trying to legibly label dime-sized pieces of plastic tubes, I can appreciate their worth when I find myself ranting to anyone who will listen about their use in our work. Scientific knowledge is generated on the basis of meticulous procedures yielding accurate and reproducible information. Sometimes, this means labeling tubes and waiting for samples to incubate.

As much as I am continually amazed by the work that I get to be a part of and its potential implications for future research, I often struggle to share my enthusiasm with those around me. It is frustrating to realize that these complex interplays that make up the  immune system   that compels me so strongly, is difficult to communicate in everyday language. This is all to say that knowledge translation is a central part of the scientific research process.

I think it’s important to continue to support efforts to demystify the experience of scientific experimentation and promote the bridging of this gap through communication.

So, next time you see me labeling another 180 microcentrifuge tubes, hopefully it’ll inspire us to have a conversation about science.