Every year, we take a group of work experience students to come and work in the lab with us for a week. The experience includes completing some basic lab work as well as meeting other group heads from around the building.
Here are some of the comments from recent students.
"Just like in the films!"
"I got an offer from Oxford Uni to study Biochemistry and I owe it to opportunities like the one that you gave me."
"It was extremely valuable, memorable and interesting (as well as fun!)"
"I thoroughly enjoyed it and really learnt a lot for new things whilst gaining confidence in the practical elements. It was brilliant!"
"The experience was genuinely one of the most fascinating things I've ever done"
"The experience really inspired me and I am so much more excited for university having seen where it could take me"
"It exceeded all expectations"
More detailed descriptions from the students can be found in the blogs below.
This year we are hoping to set up a centralised application system - watch this space for more news on how to apply. You must be over 16 to be able to take part in work experience.
Katherine Ferris (Aylesbury High School) & Jonny Hughes (Churchill Academy)
Over the course of the week, we had the opportunity to try out new laboratory techniques and to explore various aspects of the work being done at the centre. On the first day, after an introductory talk, we began to process our DNA sample that would form the basis of our lab work for the rest of week. We gave a saliva sample, then extracted our DNA from it that we would use to run our first gel the following day. In the afternoon, we were shown around the bioinformatics side of the centre and were very impressed by the scale of the machines, particularly the noise that they generated!
On the second day, we began by using a Nanodrop machine to determine the concentration of the DNA in our samples before running a gel to check the quality of the DNA. This involved the process of gel electrophoresis. We then diluted the samples to a standard concentration, ready for use in PCR the next day. After that, we had a talk from Dr. Charvy Narain about her exciting career path following a science-based degree that gave us a good insight into the wide variety of opportunities available within the scientific community that are not necessarily in a research role. We finished the day with a talk from Dr. Brian Mackenwells on his role as a Public Engagement officer and the importance of this to the research facility. This was particularly interesting as it showed us a side of research that we had never considered before.
Day 3 introduced us to another new technique known as PCR. The number of reactants required a lot of concentration, but we were very excited to see the results on a second gel, and of course we enjoyed the opportunity to continue to play with the incredibly accurate pipettes. We also had a talk from Dr. Cath Green who was very enthusiastic about her work in chromosome dynamics. She explained some of her current projects and left us equally enthusiastic. That afternoon we visited the transgenic labs where Dr. Ben Davis told us about his work with mouse models and showed us a brilliant microscope that is used for microinjections. It was amazing to be given the chance to use the equipment and the infrared ray, complete with sound effects, created a lot of excitement.
When we came in on Day 4, Dianne had very kindly run a second PCR ready for us, which we used to generate a better image of our DNA. After this, we carried out restriction digestion reactions on the DNA samples to fragment them and create a more interesting image on the gel. We then used the computers to identify the genes present in our DNA samples, and this was fascinating as we were able to see the enormous volume of information known about each of them. Later in the day Dr. Sergei Padilla showed us the array of microscopes used in the centre, and we also visited the British Heart Foundation’s laboratory and were introduced to some of the work being done there.
On the last day, we used our original PCR fragments and the ones produced by the digestion reactions, plus our original genomic DNA to run a final gel. We also had two more talks, one on the use of proteins in diagnosing and treating disease, and one on next-generation sequencing, both of which introduced us to further areas of research. Then we were given a tour of the high throughput sequencing lab and we were enthralled by the machines that could pipette 96 samples in the time we had spent on one! After that, we edited the images of our gels to create a range of arty representations before we had to hang up our lab coats for the last time. It was a fantastic week that gave us all a very valuable insight into the opportunities afforded by a career in research. Thank you so much to Dianne and to everyone else who made this week possible.
Leah Heredia (Haberdashers' Aske's), Lucy Dickinson (Whitchurch High School), Mia Stead (Alexandra Park School) & Marta Lubowiecka
Our Week With Dianne
On our first day we took saliva samples – which proved more difficult than it sounds! We then used these to form a DNA pellet which we washed with ethanol. After diluting this pellet in water, we loaded our genomic mix onto gel and each produced a band of our genomes. As the week progressed, we used more and more complicated techniques to create more interesting bands on our gel images – including various PCR and enzyme digestions. Because we all used different digestions, each of our final gel images ended up with different bands. It was overall a fascinating experience to use lab techniques and computer programmes that Dianne uses every day, but were very new to us. At first the incredibly small volumes that geneticists use surprised us, but we soon adjusted to this (and large volumes seemed abnormal thereafter!).
As well as the laboratory work we participated in, Dianne also arranged for us to meet with a variety of people from different labs within the building. These ranged from the public engagement department to transgenics, where we notably got to inject a mouse embryo! We were also allowed to see the computer room, where the huge amounts of data used by the centre are stored. After this it became apparent to us, especially after talking to Dr. Charvy Narain, that there truly are endless opportunities in science, even beyond the lab.
The experience has been extremely eye opening and valuable, and we are incredibly grateful to Dianne for giving us this unique opportunity.
Matthew McKenzie (Vyners school) & Khubbaib Hasan (Handsworth Grammar)
We began the week by introducing ourselves to each other to break the ice. We then promptly proceeded to collect a DNA sample from our saliva, this process was inextricable to our lab work for the whole week and would form the foundation for the genetic techniques that we explored at the centre. We were given a short talk, after discussing a rough schedule for the week, on genetics and the work done at the centre and in particular – Dianne’s research on Speech and Language impairments and how genes influence these disorders. This was followed by our induction into the lab where we were given the opportunity to familiarise ourselves with some of the lab equipment and to some of the biological and chemical techniques we’d be using to analyse our DNA at a molecular level. We ended the day with a talk about bioinformatics where we got to look at the servers and the computers used for storage. This talk was particularly insightful- with most of us not being very familiar with this area of genetics and it’s fair to say that the size of the machines was quite overwhelming!
Day two, we started by investigating the concentration of our samples using the nanodrop which required a very steady hand – difficult when you are concentrating very hard! We then ran our first gel to check the quality of our DNA samples. Gel electrophoresis is when you load small holes in an agarose gel, submerged in Tac fluid, with your samples and use electricity to run the samples down the gel. The lighter the DNA fragment the further it would run allowing us to quantify how many base pairs there are. We then had two talks on public engagement in science and the careers that would be available with a science degree – many of which we had no idea existed!
On day three, we learnt of another technique known as the polymerase chain reaction or ‘PCR’ which is used to amplify DNA and make many more copies. We had to combine various reactants of different volumes in tiny containers called Eppendorf tubes using the high resolution accuracy pipettes. We had talks and tours from two research group heads who enthusiastically introduced us to their very interesting work. In the morning, Dr. Cath Green talked to us all about chromosome dynamics and cancer and, after lunch, Dr. Ben Davis showed us around the transgenics lab. Here we actually had the opportunity to inject an unused mouse embryo using the microinjection technology and discover the humorous sound effects that you could choose for the infrared laser.
On day four, we generated higher quality images of our DNA from the PCR products. These little black and white prints (that we were allowed to keep!) were eagerly cherished throughout the week and we always enjoyed comparing to see who had the ‘best DNA’. Our next technique was restriction digestions of our PCR products (don’t worry if the vocabulary is all new, it was for us too!). This process meant we could cut the long DNA into shorter fragments using enzymes. Here we used the computers to identify some of our genes in our samples and carefully calculate what would go in each Eppendorf tube ready for our final gels. We tried using our knowledge of the lengths cut to produce interesting patterns. In the afternoon, we were shown some of the microscopes used in the centre by Dr. Sergei Padilla followed by a visit to the BHF laboratory upstairs.
On the final day, we used our samples to run a final gel – hoping they came out as we expected! We had two final talks about using proteins to diagnose and treat disease, as well as on high throughput sequencing and next-generation technology. We were also introduced to a robotic-arm machine that could pipette up to 96 samples all at once and organise and move around all the gear on its work table. We ended the day by editing our gel images on the computers to produce weirdly colourful and arty versions. Hanging up our lab coats was a moment that we all realised it wouldn’t be for the last time and we were all motivated for our scientific futures.
We would like to thank Dr Dianne Newbury and all the fantastic researchers and staff at the Wellcome Trust Centre in Oxford for making this week possible and giving us the amazing experience that let us feel like real scientists. We have all walked away having learnt facts and skills that geneticists and biologists could be utilising on a regular basis.
Grace Tribe (Tiffin Girls) & Miranda Gardiner (Nonsuch High)
We were given the chance to explore the Wellcome Trust Centre with Dr Dianne Newbury as our supervisor. Along with other students we experimented with techniques which we hadn’t done before and learnt numerous different skills required to be a researcher. This week also allowed us to be able to discover the various career paths in the science world which we hadn’t known about before. At the beginning of the week, we got used to using more advanced equipment (compared to that at school) as well as using computer programmes to tell us lots of information about our research. Towards the end of the week we became more accustomed to all the challenges of running gels and PCR. This week has really helped us to understand genetics and provoked us to think about all the behind the scenes action of research.
Jessica White- Archaeological Science student at University of Sheffield
Work experience at the Wellcome Trust Centre with Dianne Newbury
The first thing we did during our work experience was have a brief introduction to genetics by Dianne Newbury. Here the basic information on DNA was covered so that we all had an understanding of what we would be looking at. One of the best aspects of the work experience was being able to meet the other researchers and members of the Wellcome Trust Centre; the first person we met was Dr Sergi Padilla-Parra who showed us the microscopy labs. Dr Padilla-Parra’s work involved looking at proteins using fluorescent colours, which can be used in many aspects of research, such as looking at the processes viruses use to enter cells.
Dianne then took us through the health and safety aspects of working in a lab and told us more about her own research. It was really interesting to hear more about how genes and mutations work and I learnt about different levels of speech and language impairments that I had not previously heard of.
After this we started the process of extracting our DNA by collecting saliva samples which were then incubated at 37°C. Next, we added a protease to the saliva samples to break down the proteins in our saliva which meant that when we centrifuged the solution the DNA was separated from the rest of the solution. The centrifuge was used again to form a pellet of DNA. With this pellet we used ethanol and then water to get it ready for the next day’s work.
Following the work in the lab we then met Gil McVean. I had read about his work during my studies on human evolutionary genetics, as population statistics frequently comes up in this area. This meant it was absolutely fascinating to meet one of the people behind the HapMap and 1000 genomes project. Feeling a little starstruck, Gil told us more about the mutations and adaptions that he had explored during his research, giving us an insight into the huge role that maths plays in large genetic studies.
Dianne started the day by telling us a bit more about the Polymerase Chain Reaction which we would be carrying out after the first day’s work in the lab. We quantified our DNA with a really varied level of results- mine seemed to be over 10 times what everyone else got which was very confusing! But when we had done this, we individually diluted our solutions so that they would all be at the same concentration to work with. To do the PCR we added magnesium chloride, tac enzyme (which wouldn’t be denatured at the high temperatures) and primers. The PCR machine put the DNA through cycles of different temperatures to denature it and then reform it so that it would be amplified. The primers we used meant that certain sections of the DNA would be amplified, which is how geneticists look at specific sequences. In the afternoon we set up the gels to be used for electrophoresis.
On day 2 we met Dr Ben Davis from the Transgenics lab. This was really amazing as we got to see real work being done on mice embryos being injected with DNA. It was even more remarkable when we got to have a go injecting the embryos ourselves! We were lucky enough to also see the large sequencing machines used in the labs and also stem cells that were beginning to differentiate.
We returned to the lab for the last part of the day to run our PCR products on the gel next to a known DNA ladder.
On our third day our work meant we were using computers to explore DNA. Dianne introduced us to the website UCSC which I will definitely be using again in the future. With the data on this website we were able to work out how long the sequences were that were visible by using the information we had on the primers. This meant we knew how many base pairs were in the sequences we were looking at. UCSC also told us what sequences would be coding for a gene in the sections of DNA we were looking at. It was fascinating to see the everyday technology that exists and how useful it could be in many different areas. After this we used another website called “New England Bio labs” to work out which enzymes we wanted to use in the reaction we were going to be doing on day 4. By entering the base sequence we got from UCSC we would access a list of enzymes that would cut the DNA in different places and in at different lengths. We all chose enzymes that we could use with our DNA and then drew diagrams of what we expected the DNA fragments would look like on the gels when we did the reaction.
On this day we were lucky enough to meet a few scientists whose work was all really different between them. Firstly we met Dr Alistair Pagnamenta who does work on translational genetics. Again I learnt more about genetic diseases which I had not heard of and how inheritance can seriously affect the chromosomes, especially in the cases where families were closely related.
The second person we met on day 3 was Dr Radu Aricescu who was very entertaining and informative. He has a PhD in neuroscience and is a biochemist so explained to us about his work looking at synapses and proteins. I can’t explain enough how amazing it was to be able to hear more about all the different areas the researchers are involved at the Wellcome Trust centre.
Dr Cath Green then gave us a talk on DNA replication and regulation which linked in to work on cancer. This also gave us another example of how fluorescence is used in the lab to explore many different areas such as chromosomes in this case.
Our last day came all too quickly and we spent nearly all of it in the lab. This followed our work on the computers from yesterday. We used the restriction enzymes we had researched to cut our own DNA as we had planned previously. The enzymes had to have specific buffers to ensure they worked and while these were incubated we prepared another set of agarose gels. Once the gels were set we ran the mixtures of DNA and restriction enzymes through the gels. It was so incredible to be able to see our own DNA right in front of us and then we used UV imaging to create a picture of it.
On our last day we also had the chance to look at human and primate cells under the microscope which looked surprisingly different.
The experience at the Wellcome Trust Centre with Dianne Newbury was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I learnt so much about the world of genetics and the researchers involved in a vast amount of different areas. Dianne and her collegues were extremely friendly and all offered to help in any way possible. The experience has shown me how incredible the world of genetics is and I will definitely be using the skills and knowledge I’ve learnt in my final year of university. Thank you so much to Dianne Newbury and everyone else at the Wellcome Trust Centre for having us!
Patrick Bapty. Queen Elizabeth Hospital School, Bristol. 2014
Tuesday 26th We began the day with a tour of the microscopy labs from Dr Sergi Padilla, who described the various uses the different types of microscopes have, including real-time spectroscopy to be able to see protein interaction in cells. This was the first of many ‘meet the lab’ sessions we had with researchers in the centre that allowed us to be shown what work goes on there and the different branches within genetics (there are lots!) other than our own work in Dianne’s lab.
Next we had an introduction from Dianne covering the basic principles of genetics, the Human Genome Project and SLI, as well as her own career path. We also began our own work here by taking saliva samples before moving into the lab to begin the process of extracting DNA, which involved lots of pipetting, mixing and centrifugation. This allowed us to get to grips with all of the high precision and very cool equipment (a huge step up from at school!) including the Vortex (for mixing), 4 different sizes of pipettes and some very powerful centrifuges. Part if this process included adding ethanol to the mix, which caused the DNA to uncurl and meant that we could see the clumps forming in the test tube!
The day was finished by a talk from Prof Gil McVean about his work as a population geneticist and his 2 projects, the 1000 genomes project and the HapMap project. These both involve whole genome sequencing of people to then be used as references for associating genes with diseases and finding out about differences between populations. I particularly enjoyed his account of how geographical factors can shape the genome, which includes skin pigmentation, altitude and infectious diseases.
Wednesday 27th After receiving a brief about PCR from Dianne we set about putting the theory into action by preparing a PCR mix using the DNA we had isolated, Taq polymerase, MgCl2, dnTP and primer fragments. Before doing so we used a spectrophotometer to calculate the concentration of DNA we had so that we could all dilute it to the same concentration and volume. We then used the PCR machines to amplify the chosen sections of DNA and later set up a gel for electrophoresis to separate the products according to the size of the fragments.
We were also shown around the first floor labs including the huge sequencing machines and the transgenics department by Dr Ben Davies, where germline modification allows theories about gene function to be tested. We saw this in action and even got to do it ourselves; inserting DNA into the pronuclei of a 1 cell-stage mouse embryo! This was done using glassware made in that lab, including a needle which is capable of delivering 1x10-15 litres of solution! We moved on to the cell culture lab where we saw stem cells under the microscope and were told about how they can become beating myogenic cells when left to differentiate. We also got the chance to look at some DNA microarrays, which carry the genetic information of 12 people on a colourful glass slide the same size as a normal microscope slide.
Thursday 28th Today’s work didn’t wasn’t in the lab but on computers instead, where we were shown the UCSC database to visualise the genes that the primers we used for PCR worked on. By typing in the DNA base sequence we could see the location of the fragment in its gene within the chromosome and links to all of the information you could need about it. Knowing the position of the fragment meant we could find out the actual length of the fragment, which was more accurate than reading off the gel. Knowing the position also meant that we could identify the restriction enzymes that cut the DNA up somewhere in this section, using the NEBcutter tool. We were then able to choose some restriction enzymes that would work on the fragment that had been amplified during PCR.
We had some meet the lab sessions with Dr Alistair Pagnamenta who told us about his research in translational genetics and its application in determining the genetic causes of disease, and then Dr Radu Ariescu, a structural biologist. Despite not understanding much of the technical aspects it was still very interesting to hear about a different area of biology, in particular the physical basis of memory. We also met Dr Cath Green who works in chromosome dynamics and talked to us about oncogenetics and the effects of UV on DNA. All of these were very engaging and I learnt a lot.
Friday 29th We began by preparing our DNA and the combinations of restriction enzymes chosen yesterday, following the detailed instructions for each enzyme and the other substances that made up the mixture. We got to use some multi-headed pipettes for this, as well as more centrifugation and PCR to amplify the chosen sections of DNA. We met with Dr Antonio Velayos while the PCR machines were running for a general talk about genetics and DNA transcription, before heading up to see some monkey and human fibroblast cells under the microscope. The quality of the machines still continued to amaze me however there was one that we were yet to use; the UV photo machine, which allowed us to see the DNA fragments on the gel having set up gel electrophoresis for the DNA with the restriction enzymes. The machine visualised what were to us just purple blobs on the gel and therefore see the product of our own DNA cut by restriction enzymes chosen by us! It was a great way to bring together the result from the 4 very interesting days we had spent in the lab.
Emily Pratt. Keswick School, Cumbria. 2014
Work experience: Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics 26- 29th August ‘14
We arrived at the centre for genetics at 9:30 and were greeted by Dr Dianne Newbury and after a short introduction to the other 6 work experience students we went off to meet the head of microscopy.
Dr Sergi Padilla-Parra showed us the microscopes they use for quantitative fluorescent microscopy to look at the proteins. Fluorescent colours are expressed by the proteins which make them very visible to analyse their patterns of movement. He also talked to use about his work in virology and on endosome acidification.
We then met up with Dianne and went through health and safety before collecting our lab coats and glasses for use later. She then gave us a very informative presentation on her work on Specific language Impairment. This was very useful as it introduced me not only to a wide range of genetic disorders I had previously had little knowledge of, but she also explained the way genetic disorders can occur, due to variants in DNA. It was useful to discover that in all of the 20,000 genes we posses, we will all carry mutations however they do not affect the phenotype.
After a short Q an A session we then (attempted!!) to collect our saliva samples for DNA extraction after lunch. After some hilarious collecting we left the samples in an incubator at 370 for an hour.
For the DNA extraction we first moved our samples to a fresh container before adding a protease enzyme and putting the solution on ice for 10 minutes before centrifuging it for 10 minutes at 3300 rpm. This formed a pellet of all the cell organelles and membranes and left the DNA in the supernatant. We then removed the supernatant with a pipette and placed in another tube before adding ethanol so the DNA stands appeared. After this we centrifuged it again at the same speed for 10 minutes forming a pellet of DNA. This was then rinsed in ethanol to clean and then put into water to allow the DNA to be reabsorbed into solution. The DNA was set up ready to be quantified in the morning.
To finish we had a discussion with Gil McVean- professor of statistical and population genetics. This was a new topic area for me which I found very interesting, especially learning the major genetic differences between populations such as skin melanin or red blood cell proteins. He told us about his involvement in the Hapmap, 1000 genomes project and is currently working on the UK 100,000 genome project.
After a brief discussion about the method and theory behind Polymerase chain reactions with Dianne we headed into the lab where we spent the full morning. We first quantified our DNA using a spectrophotometer with varying results. Then, using out measured values we diluted each solution accordingly to ensure all were at the correct solution for PCR. After dilution and the addition of magnesium chloride, tac enzyme and a pair of primers we put the mixtures into the PCR machine. The machine cycles through temperatures from 95-37 degrees in order to denature and reform the specific DNA sections we want to amplify. This amplifies certain sections of the DNA for other reactions. After a well deserved lunch we returned to the lab to set up the gels to use with the pcr products. This involved adding 3g Agarose to 150ml TAE solution. This then was allowed to set before any electrophoresis could occur.
Whilst allowing the gel to set we visited the genomics labs and saw the large sequencing machines used to sequence whole genomes which were currently operating. We then were introduced to Dr Ben Davis, who heads up the Transgenic labs at the Wellcome trust. WE were fortunate enough to witness a scientist using microinjections to inject 1fm (-15) of DNA into one cell mouse embryos. I actually also got the opportunity to inject some DNA into an embryo which was successful and may be used in the experiment!
On the way back to meeting Dianne he also showed us some stem cells that were in the pre-differentiating stages and some that had begun to differentiate.
Our final part of the day was running our PCR products in the Agarose gel and using the gels and a known variant DNA ladder we created UV pictures that we will use for analysis before we decide which restriction enzymes digestions to do.
Today we didn’t work at all in the lab, but instead used the computers to look at the images we’d taken off the gel from yesterday. We used the website UCSC to enter the code of both the forward and reverse primers. This gave us two sets of numbers from which we were able to calculate the base pair length of the DNA that was visible on the images. WE also were able to gather the sequence of base pairs from the DNA that was coding from each section
After collecting this data, we used the New England Bio labs website to select enzymes to use in a restriction digestion tomorrow. We entered the whole base sequence (including non-coding regions) into the database which produced several different enzymes that would cut the DNA into different fragments. After selecting a few and ensuring that the lab actually had the enzymes we had selected we then drew gene diagrams of the different fragments that would be produced after the digestions and gels tomorrow.
We also spoke to 3 different scientists at various points today. First we had a meeting with Dr Alistair Pagnamenta who works for the Oxford Biomedical research centre on translational genetics. He spoke to us about is work in genetics including work on genetic disorders due to problems in inheritance. These included errors in the transfer of chromosomes or due to inbreeding within families. He briefly showed us his lab before we met up with Dr Radu Aricescu, a biochemist with a PhD in neuroscience who looks at the process of ageing on synapses and protein crystallography. He also talked to us about the basic principles of protein crystallography and also how his work links to the genetics studied at the Wellcome Trust.
Our last session of the day was with Dr Cath Green who spoke to us about her research into DNA replication and its regulation. It was interesting to learn about the various proteins that are key to the essential repair and also how a faulty gene for the production of these can have detrimental influences on survival. She also told us about the service she provides using Fluorescent in situation Hybridisation (FISH) on chromosomes. This allows her to pick up on genetic mutations of normal body cells or look at cells from a cancerous tumour in a different method to DNA sequencing that can pick up different problems to help cure the patient.
Today was our last day working with Dianne at the Wellcome centre and we spent almost the whole day doing wet work in the lab. We carried out restriction digestions on our own DNA which we had planned out yesterday. This consisted of mixing the restriction enzymes with their necessary buffers before leaving to incubate whist we prepared Agarose gels (Agarose mixed with a salt solution called TAE).
Whilst these were setting we were spoken to by another of Dianne’s colleagues who briefly spoke to us about his work on proteins before showing us some human cell lines under a microscope.
The final stage consisted of mixing our DNA with the selected restriction enzymes to cut the DNA into a certain number of base pairs in length. We then ran the mixtures through a gel before using a UV imaging machine to get images of our own DNA that we were able to take with us.
Overall the week was really enjoyable and informative as I learnt a lot about genes, DNA and the work the scientists do at the Wellcome trust that is benefitting those all around us. I also really enjoyed the lab work and found all the new techniques really interesting to learn. It has confirmed my desire to study science at university with the possibility of going on to do further research.
Alessia Dunn. University of Sheffield. 2013
For a week, I had the opportunity to be shown round Dr Dianne Newbury’s lab along with a group of other students, and we were able to carry out our own experiment using some of the equipment. We were set the task for the week to sequence a few regions of our own DNA, just as Dianne’s group would when looking for mutations in patients DNA. She explained to us about how they are looking for genes that could cause specific language impairment (SLI) but it is more complicated than a mutation on a single gene. On the Monday, we were shown round Dianne’s lab, and used the equipment to extract our own DNA, and carry out the several steps to prepare it to be quantified. It was interesting to actually see inside a working lab which I had never had the opportunity to see before.
On Tuesday we continued with our experiment, and performing several steps to ensure we had the correct concentration for the amplification of the DNA. There was equipment that we were able to use that I had learnt about but would never have had the opportunity to use in my studies. It was great to get hands on experience, and it made me understand the processes much more.
We had the opportunity to meet several researchers in different fields of research, some of which I hadn’t even considered existed! We met Dr Sam Knight, who explained to us the transfer of techniques from research to clinical settings, and Dr Cath Green who looked at research on a more cellular basis, working out pathways that may have gone wrong. It was fascinating to see how different parts of genetics links together, and insightful about the various aspects that can be involved.
On Wednesday we were able to meet more researchers, including Dr Julie Adam who showed us round the metabolic cancer lab, which was so eye opening. We saw some of the expensive machinery and even had the opportunity to look at the tissue cultures that were being studied. We also spoke to Dr Julian Knight, and he explained his area of research within immunology and the differences in thinking required in being both a research head and clinician, which I found very interesting.
We continued our lab work and added our primers with the intent to determine which genes they amplified after using the USCS database. It was really useful being shown how the database worked, and it was incredible to see how much work has been carried out to categorise and log the millions of mutations.
On Thursday we worked entirely in the lab, it showed me how much time is needed to do the many steps there were in sequencing sections of genes, as previously I had thought one machine would do most of the work. It showed me how precise and organised researchers have to be and how creative when designing primers in order to get the sequences that are needed. We looked up where our primers were found on genes, and Dianne showed us exactly what SNP’s were common and how they can be read using software such as Chromas.
On Friday were also able to see other areas of research as we met Prof Gil McVean, and he explained to us all about the 1000 genome project and what it has meant for future research. It was interesting to understand some of the statistics behind genetics and how important the analysis is when a genotype is carried out. Dr Gerton Lunter also expressed this, explaining what exactly bioinformatics was! It was an area of genetics that I had overlooked, and had a great interest to understand how it is progressing using new software to allow a greater knowledge of what a genotype can mean for an individual.
We finished our lab work, and sent our samples off to be sequenced, ready to be analysed. It was interesting to see how the whole process worked and exciting that we were able to use our own DNA fragments to be sequenced. The week was an extremely useful experience and had made me think about pursuing a career in research. I would like to thank Dianne and everyone that took time to speak to us and allowed us to ask them endless questions!
Shu En Lee. Cardiff Sixth Form. 2013
Wellcome Genome Research Institute- Work Experience Diary
During our work experience at the Institute, we purified samples of our own DNA, amplified them using PCR, and finally sent them off for Sanger sequencing. Upon receiving our base sequences for certain genes, we were taught to use online databases and programs such as Finch TV to view our own DNA (cool!) and analyze the sequences for base changes that vary from person to person. On the first day, we used a spectrophotometer to measure the amount of DNA in each of our saliva samples. We then used this amount of DNA as a guide to the quantities of each solution we needed to measure out to perform PCR efficiently. On the second day, Dianne explained to us the principles of PCR, which are that a primer specifically designed to mark the ends of the target gene sequence is added to denatured DNA, which has been broken into single strands by heat. The temperature is then adjusted for the optimum temperature to allow enzymes to replicate the targeted section of DNA using dnTPs (free nucleotides in solution.) Once we performed the reaction, we analyzed the DNA content to see that it had been amplified, using electrophoresis.
We familiarized ourselves with many lab equipments, such as micropipettes (used in abundance), centrifuges, gel electrophoresis apparatus, and last but not least, computers! I was most amazed at the electrophoresis results, which we printed 'photographs' of. More than anything else, I was also surprised at the thoroughness of research, and dedication and vibrance of the research community. We also got to meet other members of the Wellcome Genome Research Institute, such as Samantha Knight, Gill McVean, and Catherine Green, to name a few.
The final thing I learnt from this work experience was the resolution of Genetics in today's world, which can “see” each person's individual genome, offer them advice and provide personalized options, such as rejecting chemotherapy in cases where the radiation would be more likely to enhance the mutation and increase the severity of the skin cancer (from researcher Catherine Green.) Dianne's project was on children and here we learnt about the difficulties of obtaining enough data and the importance of research methods such as double checking an SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) on both strands of DNA, non-intrusive saliva DNA collection, studying parent's genomes and family interviews and so on. I also was amazed at how methodical and careful research was, from the collection and purification of DNA samples, to preparation and finally analysis. We also met researchers studying Translational Genetics and Applied Statistical Genetics, which study the potential of Genetics to be applied as future medical tests for patients to indicate risk, or in modelling future situations in cases such as black and polar bear conservation.
Overall, it was a highly enriching research opportunity. I learnt about how biology works and how much potential it has in medical advancement to lead improvements in treatment and understanding of disease. It made me more aware of what happens when our system 'goes wrong' and motivated me to take action about it. I also enjoyed the ethical discussions with the other work experience students and Dianne!