Wednesday, January 11, 2012

here be embryos

Exciting things are afoot.

I'm back in Québec, and getting myself resettled at McGill.
I have loads of samples. I have permits to export animals. That means that soon I will have live embryos here to work with (assuming the animals like living in an artificial aquarium). I've almost got my sequencing project off the ground. I'm in a lab with equipment that I can do a lot of exciting things with, and people who are doing exciting projects. I'm living in a great apartment in a funky part of town with excellent neighbours.

It's shaping up to be a good semester.

Happy 2012.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

So many things to discover!

I've just spent my lunch hour browsing my reader to skim some abstracts and see what's new in the world of science. One article that caught my eye in particular was this one in Nature (hopefully it's not behind a paywall).

It's a short news brief, but basically talks about how much we still don't know about the inner workings of the cell. You might have got the impression from your basic biology textbooks that we had pretty much figured out all of the bits that make up the cell, but in reality, we've just hit the big, obvious things. Nucleus, check. Mitochondria, check. Golgi apparatus, check. This article talks about recently discovered (or re-discovered) structures that are likely playing very important roles in cell-cell communication, and in controlling production processes within the cell. Using a combination of old and new technologies (go electron microscopy!) we are learning more and more about how cells work. And as someone who is interested in how development takes a single cell and turns it into a complex, multi-cellular organism, understanding how cells communicate is an important step!

Although the purpose and importance of some of these emerging structures is not yet clear, the research illustrates that the act of simply observing cells and their contents is alive and well. “A key aspect of doing great science is exploration,” says Davis. “I think that there's a tremendous amount that we learn just by watching.”

When it seems like everyone is pushing to publish the next "sexy" finding, it's good to know that there's still a place for exploring, observing and watching. And that while our knowledge of the living world might seem substantial, there are still so many things that we don't know. And that's the most exciting prospect of all!

As a special bonus, here is a great video of what we do know about how a cell works. One of my absolute favourite biology videos.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Amazing how the ability to generate data is energizing. Today I finally received my long-awaited reagent; a vital dye (which means it won't kill the cells while I am looking at them) that stains the nucleus. I'm using it to look at fertilization in my embryos. I've been waiting for it since August, and by a long series of tedious and semi-tragic events, it took until now - November - for me to actually get the damn stuff.*

So. This evening, despite being tired and drained from battling a cold for the last two days, I stayed late in lab running an experiment to see that this will work. It needs some optimization, but it looks good to me, assuming I can get the quantity of embryos I need. The realization of how much energy the ability to work had given me hit when I got home around 10pm (I should have stayed later, if not for that pesky cold, my unwillingness to walk home alone after dark, and the low chance of catching a cab at night) and had to meet with a neighbour. And at that point I realized how cool this little experiment really is and started rattling on about it. It even prompted this post. And as an added bonus, this could actually tell me something really interesting about my project, and with a little side work, even become a nice little paper.

See - excitement!
Just the push that I will need to finish up here in a little over three weeks... cripes that's coming up fast.

*On a related note, I am still waiting for many of the other things that were on that list. Sigh.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Welcome to (R)October

My, but how time flies! Here we are, already October (the first day, but still a shiny new month). And here I am, on my way to somewhere else again.

The opportunity came up to participate in a workshop on comparative genomics at the Smithsonian in Washington. Seeing as this is something I need all the help I can get with, here I am, sitting at Tocumen airport in Panama, sipping on a Balboa and reviewing UNIX commands before my flight boards. Class starts on Monday and runs for the rest of the week. I'm hoping that this will kick my ass into gear with the aspects of my own genomics projects that I'm having difficulty with. Namely all of them. It's been hard to motivate myself to work out nitty-gritty details on my own. There aren't a lot of people working on development here other than myself, and my lab doesn't have a lot of experience with genomics. Which makes  it difficult to bounce ideas off of people that I know.  And there are a lot of things to think about. My supervisors are doing what they can to motivate me, but at the end of the day I am the one doing the work, and figuring out what needs doing. Hence, getting myself to Washington to learn more about the bioinformatics end of things.

As an extra bonus, I get to spend some time with friends that live in DC. And the best part of all, add on a couple of days in New England to visit my fella on his fall break. And did I mention that it is fall in New England and the leaves should be spectacular? Here's hoping.

Other than that, I've been doing a fair bit of field collecting (which you may have noticed if you also follow my flickr stream), and freezing embryos like a mad-woman. Time consuming, but very necessary.

The next two months (yikes!) before I head home for a stretch promise to be jam-packed with lab work. I'll try to add updates, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if I plan to finish everything I have set for myself, I will not have a moment of downtime to spare for things that are not sleep or sustenance*.

So with that in mind, a happy fall to everyone (or spring, for those of you reading from the southern hemisphere). Consider yourselves lucky to be breaking out the sweaters and scarves. For some reason, I really want to be able to break out a chunky sweater and a fancy scarf. And some wool socks. *Sigh*. Autumnal dreams...

*That being said, I do have the goal of making a trip to somewhere in Panama - anywhere - that I haven't been to before. What's the point of being here if I never see anything other than the inside of the lab?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saturday afternoon in Ancon

Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more;
or have nothing to study!

Another four months in Panama for me started this week. I must admit, it was a lot more exciting going to Illinois and Massachusetts, but that's probably because Panama isn't new anymore. The same problems and the same joys are still here, and not much has changed. Well, other than me. I have a better idea of what I'm doing, and more confidence with which to do it. That doesn't mean that I'm not as procrastinate-y as ever, but it does mean that I have some definite goals while I'm here.

By the time I finish this stint (I'm here until December) I will have spent over a year here in the tropics. A part of this trip is to have "big things" to show for my time here. Otherwise, why bother being here? It's not like I really enjoy spending long periods of time away from home. And I have been at this degree for two years now. I really ought to have something concrete to show for it soon. Other than an intestinal parasite and a taste for Abuelo. *

Time to go do.

* No, I do not have an intestinal parasite. Yet.
Abuelo, however, is a perfectly acceptable thing to bring home.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


The Crepidula Hunter by anyram
The Crepidula Hunter a photo by anyram on Flickr.

Well, my time here may be winding down, but that doesn't mean I don't have another few minutes to wait before my next rinse. Which, coincidentally, coincides with the amount of time it takes to write a blog post.
For all of June I've been learning for money at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole, MA. Which, if you didn't already know, is where it's at in terms of doing the embryology. While technically, I'm here as a teaching assistant, I have managed to learn far more than I have taught. And that isn't just me saying that we have really great students here. We also have great faculty, course assistants, equipment, facilities and more antibodies and material than you can shake a stick at. Which leaves me to absorb as much as I can, while also trying to complete my own projects while I'm here. I've done pretty well getting them started - less well getting them finished. Suffice it to say that four weeks (minus one for a great conference in Boston) is not nearly enough.
Maybe if I stayed in the lab more, and didn't go off to hunt for my own animals so often...

Next stop: Saskatoon for the weekend to celebrate with family, and then my long-anticipated two weeks at home!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

first patio of the season

first patio of the season by anyram
first patio of the season a photo by anyram on Flickr.

Just to prove that I actually spent a *whole* weekend at home, and that we had time to inaugurate the patio. It will be very nice come summer, especially once we install a barbecue. I will get to spend two whole days at home in May, and then an astonishing three weeks in July before I will need to be back in Panama.