Nothing to (formalde)Hyde! – Week 3 Update

After three long weeks, this week we finally had some fresh eggs to dissect. My lab partner and I have been doing dissections for a few months so we are pretty good at clean, fast dissections and hadn’t gotten too rusty in our time away. We added the embryos we dissected this week to the freezer where they can sit until we are ready to do RNA extraction from them.

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If at First you don’t Succeed, TRI(zol) Again! – Week 2 Update

Mondays are long but last Monday felt extra long as we were out of wet lab. We spent the day researching the RNA extraction protocol used in our lab and comparing it to the manufacturers’ protocols for the various steps in our procedure. It was an arduous task as we use so many different materials and machines, so there was a lot to research. The protocol we use in lab was made quite a few years ago and unfortunately it is not noted where it was originally derived from so it was our goal to find the protocol which was edited to create ours. After a full day of research we came up empty handed – however we are still looking into who created our protocol as it is important to know where it came from and what (and why) changes were made. The day was not spent in vain however, we made many discoveries about different techniques we could incorporate into the protocol which may help the efficiency of our runs and we noted these to try in the future.

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Meetings, Protocols, and Eggspensive Machines! – Week 1 Update

After a brief summer, last week I made my way back to the ‘burg. My summer of birds began with a meeting with my advisor and we established a general plan for the next 10 weeks. Since this summer I will be continuing work that I have already been working on during the school year, it didn’t take long for my Natalie, my lab partner, and I to get back into the swing of things.

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Investigating Developmental Delay in Model Songbirds Due to Methylmercury Exposure – Abstract

Mercury is prevalent in aquatic and terrestrial food webs and has wide-ranging detrimental effects on both wildlife and human populations (Gerson et al., 2018). Current and previous studies suggest that long-term, low level exposure to methylmercury (around 1.2 ppm) is associated with a wide variety of deleterious effects on zebra finch populations. These studies have shown reduced fitness, immune response, metabolic scope, and more in the songbirds after exposure to low levels of mercury (Whitney et al., 2017; Paris et al., 2018). The mechanisms underlying these effects however, remain unknown. I have already begun research on the effects of mercury on the development of songbird embryos and have found that the mercury exposed embryos seemed to lack some of the key developmental markers that appeared in control embryos of the same age. Based on my preliminary data, I hypothesize that mercury induces developmental delay and impeded brain development in zebra finches due to a synergistic effect of misregulation of cell-fate patterning and cell proliferation genes, leading to misregulation of genes expressed later in the song regions of the brain. If supported, this hypothesis predicts clear differences in gene expression in both cell proliferation assays (PCNA) and neural patterning genes (Sox2, NBT) compared to unexposed control embryos. I predict that the early delays and misregulation will then affect downstream genes affecting song learning (specifically the FoxP2 gene). Over the summer, I plan to continue to collect data in order to complete my data set, conduct specific molecular assays to test my working hypothesis. Following in situ hybridization, I will perform histology to assess spatial expression patterns in detail. To obtain quantitative data, in addition to the in situ hybridization experiments, I will also perform RT-PCR on these genes and correlate results with the spatial expression data. Taken together, the data emerging from these studies will test the hypothesis that developmental delay is due to a synergistic effect of misregulation of cell-fate patterning and an inhibition of cell proliferation, and that genes expressed later in the song regions will in turn be misregulated. If my results do not support this hypothesis it will be equally interesting because it will suggest that these neurological phenotypes are due to other pathways or occur later in development.