Friday, June 29, 2012

New Test Subject--Myself!

The last few days have blown past. While trying to balance my work and sleep schedules, I was faced with 'writer's block', leaving me hard-pressed to blog these past days, and I apologize. I will post a blog for every day that I have missed, recapping the events each day, starting with Wednesday:

The Ratty!
Surprisingly, I did not have any trouble at all waking up bright and early Wednesday morning, probably in anticipation for getting blood drawn. Standing in line at Health Services, most people were pretty worried. Colby further assured us by comparing the needle to an ice pick. Although I’ve had blood drawn countless times, I became increasingly worried as I heard stories about people getting pricked two, more than three times unsuccessfully. My fears were soon realized in when the nurse I had could not locate the veins in my arm. Even after she found two, both of them rolled—after I had been pricked. She finally decided on one in my left hand, which much to my relief drew blood. It didn’t help much that the nurse allowed the needle to do a 360 inside my hand while it was in the vein. I deposited my little 6 mL vial of blood and left quickly after the near painful experience. We had a break before class reconvened at 10 AM, and I went and had breakfast for the first time at the Sharpe Refectory (aka the Ratty), the other dining hall on campus. I have to say, I prefer the Ratty greatly over the V-Dub for almost everything.  It’s a lot more spacious, there’s more variety and quality in the food, and there are even TVs!

Back in the lab, our blood vials were centrifuged in order to separate the different components in blood. When we got them back they had been divided into three distinct layers: plasma, white blood cells, and red blood cells. Plasma, the thick top layer of clear liquid was 90% water and carries different chemicals including nutrients and wastes, and the dark red bottom layer was the red blood cells. The very thin middle layer was the white blood cells, resting lightly on the red blood layer. Our goal was to carefully extract these cells, the only component with DNA.

My Centrifuged Blood
It felt strange on many levels to work with my own blood, a part of me. I was took extra care to be cautious while I was working with it. After all, when else am I going to have the chance to analyze my own DNA? Through the Extraction procedure, we attempted to get as much DNA out of our cells while avoiding/filtering out other molecules. Following the long protocol listed in our manuals, I tried to contemplate each step and its purpose.
At the same time separate from the experiment, we held a blood typing for the inquisitive. Instead of using the blood we had already had, we drew it fresh from our fingers. We used anti-A, anti-B, and anti-Rh solutions to actually test the blood. Even though I already know my blood type (at least I think so), it was just part of the fun we have in the lab. My type is O-, which is supposedly the rarest and is the universal donor (it can be given to anybody), but in turn, I can only receive O- blood.
Most of the curriculum in DNA/Biotech at Brown is lab-oriented, and the material we learn from outside are just to supplement the techniques we do in class. The lab work we do is a lot more in-depth and engaging in comparison to what I did at ECHS. I remember that in AP Biology, it felt like we did the labs just going through the motions, with no real purpose and not being able to experience firsthand the things that we read about in textbooks. Sometimes when an experiment was blown, we used the book’s results as a model. Therefore, I never felt like I really connected with the material or it ignited my passion for the subject. I can definitely speak differently about my experiences here at Brown.
On a side note, the labs seem to be getting more rigorous and every day we are doing more and more at the same time. This Wednesday also marked the halfway point of our stay at Brown, but it feels like we barely got here. The next day we were scheduled to continue working on our own DNA, as well as lab 12, which I made sure to read beforehand.

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