My Summer Adventure With Zebrafish

This is part of series of posts by recipients of the 2019 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Zita Ndemanu, COL ’21

This summer because of the funding grant I received from Career Services I was able to continue my research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I started working in the lab last October, but I wanted to use the summer to become more familiar and confident in a wet lab environment. This is exactly what I did!

As a Health and Societies major, I felt a little out of place in a wet lab. When I initially joined I just felt very overwhelmed and intimidated, despite how nice, welcoming, and helpful everyone was. Pipettes and PCR all seemed very quantitative to me. Everyone studied chemistry or biology, or had credentials like MD or PhD after their name. And here I was, a sophomore with a social science major. However, my insistence on challenging myself made me eager to learn. I also have a strong interest in health, and I thought this would be a good place to start. Everyone was so nice, and I saw many women and people of color, which was important to me. The hardest part about working in the lab during the school year was how sporadic work days were. I felt like I never really got the chance to fully immerse myself into lab work and develop more agency because of how little I worked, so I was excited to get the opportunity to do so this summer.

This summer provided the perfect challenge  because I was working on my own project, and this gave me more confidence in the lab. My lab focused on mitochondrial disease in children, specifically mutations in Complex V ( ATP6, ATP8, and USMG5). Complex V is in the mitochondria, and it is responsible for producing ATP, which is responsible for carrying out the body’s essential processes. I worked specifically with mutations in USMG5, a gene that codes for a protein that regulates ATP synthesis. I worked with zebrafish that had a CRISPR Cas 9 knockdown of the USMG5 gene, so the zebrafish had various mutations of this gene. If I could give a 1 sentence summary of my summer project to someone I would say that my project was to confirm that my lab had created a model of the human USMG5 mutation in zebrafish. I did this by phenotyping mutant zebrafish (with a mutation in the USMG5 gene) and comparing them with a control, zebrafish without a mutation in USMG5. Phenotyping is when you look at the physical characteristics of an organism and categorize whether it is a mutant or normal phenotype. Zebrafish are especially great to do this with because they are small and transparent, so we can see their organs under a microscope. They also have lots of embryos, and this allowed me to have a sample size of about 800 mutant and 800 control zebrafish. Through my phenotyping I found that overall the prevalence of heart defects and scoliosis is higher in zebrafish with a mutation in the USMG5 gene. These findings are consistent with the mutation’s presentation in humans, and showed that we had created a zebrafish model of the human USMG5 mutation.

My summer was definitely challenging, but I learned so much, and I’m very grateful for the experience.

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