Planning and Practicing, the first steps of an independent project

Madeleine Sleeman, COL ’23, Pound Ridge, NY

This summer, the generosity of Penn Career Services enabled me to work in the Thaiss Lab at the Microbiology Department, Perelman School of Medicine. I have been a member of the Thaiss Lab for over two years, and I have learned more than I ever thought possible in this time. The financial support of Penn Career Services allowed me to work in-person at the lab not only this summer, but last summer as well. This summer was particularly exciting, as I began an independent research project.

This opportunity began two years ago when I started working with an incredible post-doc in the lab studying the effects of psychological stress on irritable bowel disorder (IBD). This allowed me to learn about wet and dry lab techniques, as well as explore microbiology. One of the most fascinating topics I learned about was how the gut microbiome can influence the immune system and gene expression. I was especially excited when recently published papers highlighted the influence of the intestinal microbiome on cancer development. This newfound knowledge enabled me to think of an independent research topic, studying the microbiomes of cancer resistant (CR) animals. I worked on this during my 2022 summer experience at the Thaiss Lab.

One of the main experiments in our project involves giving mice a CR animal microbiome, and then inducing cancer. The results of this will allow us to determine if CR animals have an anti-cancer microbiome that prevents cancer development. We prepared for this experiment over the course of the summer, ordering germ free mice, practicing the technique of fecal microbiome transplants [the technique used to give mice the microbiome of a CR animal], and generating an extensive protocol.

The second main part of the project is shotgun metagenomic sequencing of CR animal fecal samples, which will allow us to characterize CR microbiomes in terms of bacteria, fungi, metabolites, and viruses. While waiting for our CR animal fecal samples to arrive from national zoos and international animal rescues, we prepared for sequencing by practicing DNA extraction from stool, library preparation, and computational analysis.

Our summer preparation for the project has allowed us to plan an experimental start-date for early fall, which we are very excited for. This is my first independent project, and the planning involved was a huge learning-curve that I would not have been able to hurdle without the guidance from my peers in the Thaiss and Levy labs. The willingness of everyone to help me learn technique and plan experiments was so heartwarming, and I am very thankful to be a member of such a wonderful community.

Thank you, Penn Career Services, for providing me the funding I needed to pursue this opportunity!

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2022 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.

By Career Services
Career Services