This summer I am very excited to be continuing my work in Professor Jon Snow’s lab at Barnard. In the Snow lab we study the cellular stress response pathways of the honey bee and of a parasite that infects honeybees called Nosema ceranae. Nosema belong to a class of organisms known as Microsporidia, which are obligate intracellular eukaryotes which infect various animals from crustaceans to humans to honey bees. Compared to other microbial parasites, the cellular biology of microsporidians has been relatively understudied. Nosema infection is widespread in honeybee colonies across the United States, and is one of an interacting set of stressors which is theorized to contribute to individual death and colony collapse. By characterizing the stress response pathways of both honey bees and their parasite in the Snow lab, we can understand the cellular interactions between these two organisms and find targeted therapies for infected colonies.
In addition to continuing the work on my project from this past academic year, I am also taking up a few additional projects in the lab ter. During the school year I analyzed data from RNA sequencing of Nosema under heat shock conditions to look for novel genes involved in the heat shock response and set up experiments to test them. Because so little is known about Microsporidia, I consulted gene homologs in yeast to determine the potential function of each gene. To continue this work over the summer, I have been conducting experiments treating infected honeybees with a drug called eugenol, which may inhibit the ability of Nosema to harvest nitrogen from its host under heat shock conditions. The hope is that eugenol may be able to serve as an alternative treatment for Nosema infections in honeybees.
Related to this project, I am also conducting experiments to determine if the heat shock response of Nosema can be inhibited using RNA interference (RNAi). This technique involves feeding bees double stranded RNA with the hope that it will inhibit the translation of target genes in the parasite into protein. In addition to reducing infection, this experiment will also help us better understand the role of certain proteins in Nosema heat shock response.
In addition to these ongoing projects, I am also helping Professor Snow with a completely new project to identify and sort the different life stages of Nosema using flow cytometry. Currently in our lab we can only quantify infection through counting mature spores using light microscopy or through quantitative PCR (qPCR). Spore counting neglects to include other life stages of the parasite. By staining samples with different dyes, we will hopefully be able to use the flow cytometer at the medical campus to sort different Nosema life stages.
Finally, I am running trials of potential new drugs to target Nosema infections in bees. These drugs were created in labs in both India and Japan to target human eukaryotic infections, such as malaria, so it is exciting to attempt to apply these drugs to an entirely different animal and parasitic disease.
So far, I have really enjoyed my research in the Snow lab this summer. Having so many projects to work on means that when one experiment is going slow, I always have another to turn to! Although I have spent the past year working in the Snow lab, being here full time, this summer has really allowed me to dive headfirst into my research. Because I only work a few hours a week during the school year, it takes a while to conduct and complete experiments, but during the summer I have been able to get so many things done!
It has also been rewarding to gain increasing familiarity with and learn entirely new laboratory techniques, such as bee collection, bee dissections, spore counting, RNA extraction, cDNA synthesis, quantitative PCR, double-stranded RNA synthesis, DNA purification and many more. Because we use many of these same techniques day-to-day and week-to-week, I have been able to sharpen and perfect my skills at many of them. One of the most fun new skills I’ve learned this summer has been how to collect bees from the hive with a homemade aspirator. By securing a mesh cage inside a plastic tube, we use our lungs to suck up bees to use in our experiments!
Another rewarding part of this summer so far has been spending time with and learning from the other members of the lab. Just like how working full time has allowed me to engage more fully with lab techniques, it has also let me get to know the other members of my lab much better. All of us are undergraduate science majors at Barnard, so we share tips on everything from the best way to dissect bees to must-take biology classes. Being surrounded by fellow women in science has been valuable to my own research and love of biology!
Although all of us in the Snow lab are continuing our work from the school year, and therefore familiar with how the lab works, Professor Snow has implemented a new weekly lab meeting for us to share our progress and findings. Each week one of us does a longer Powerpoint presentation on our research and the remaining members give a brief update on their projects. I think that one of the most important tests of your own knowledge on a subject is your ability to teach it to others, so preparing for my presentations these past few weeks has really forced me to deepen and solidify my own understanding of the biology behind my research projects.
In the upcoming weeks of the summer, I plan to continue to make progress conducting experiments and gathering data for each of my projects. Through this research, as well as through preparing for lab meetings and sharing my project with others, I hope to learn more about the cellular stress responses of honey bees and Nosema and also improve my skills at sharing my findings with others. Additionally, I am excited to begin putting together an informational video about the Snow lab bees and my own research to share with the wider community!