This week, it was time to roll up our sleeves, put on a lab coat, and analyze some of our own box turtle samples! We also had the opportunity to help our zoo residents with their projects, assist with other WEL student projects, and continue making progress on our own summer lab projects! Perfect, perfect, perfect? More like, projects, projects, projects. Each day was filled with a different lab technique, and it was fun to be able to help others get their lab work started.

As our WEL teammates continue to sample the turtles in the field, the number of samples grows quite rapidly. While collecting the samples and interacting with our shelled friends may be the best part of our jobs, processing the samples might be the most crucial part. On the box turtle team, our lab work begins when we return from the field. These clinical lab analyses include white blood cell counting using hemocytometers and differentials, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and many others. However, further analyses require more complex processing and equipment are conducted in the WEL facilities in the College of Veterinary Medicine including DNA and RNA extraction, and conventional and quantitative PCR. This week, Maris and I focused on those tests.

We first began extracting the DNA from the samples. This method purifies the DNA and separates it from cellular components such as the cell membrane. DNA extraction is an extremely precise and methodical step that kept us occupied for the first half of the week. Needless to say, by the time I finished my first 4 samples, Maris had already completed over 30 extractions (#GirlBoss). To verify that we indeed purified the DNA, we use a Nanodrop spectrophotometer, a machine that indicates the level of DNA purity using a drop of the extracted DNA solution.

After extracting the DNA, we ran PCR and gel electrophoresis for the rest of the week. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) allows us to rapidly amplify DNA segments of interest, using specific primers for these segments. In our case, we used specific primers for certain pathogens in the turtle DNA including herpesviruses, adenoviruses, and mycoplasma bacteria. Then, the amplified DNA is transferred to the agarose gel, which allows us to evaluate how successful our PCR is. How, you ask? We can visualize and compare our turtle samples to the positive and negative ones by inserting a known positive and a known negative. In the case of my first PCR, we could not identify the positive samples, which suggested that my PCR failed. This, of course, led to another 5-hour PCR process of the same samples, resulting in some good news. Nearly all the turtles were negative for that pathogen! Hooray!

By the end of the week, I felt comfortable enough to run the test myself (with Maris overlooking every step along the way) and even interpret some of the data. And by that time, I had come up with a list of lab ASMR:

  • When you run out of pipet tips at the same time that you finish using that pipet.
  • When you see the positive sample in the gel but none of the turtle samples (we love it when our turtles are healthy).
  • When your DNA extraction works the first time.
  • When you return to your hood, someone already cleaned it (thank you, Maris).
  • Freshly calibrated pipets.
  • When you understand all the “doctor words” Dr. Laura Adamovicz uses (#TheOGGirlBoss).