One of my main aims for this blog (and in life!) is to try and make scientists ‘more human’. I want to break down the barriers between the scientists and the public and try and get people more interested in what is going on in the lab. So, since my last post I’ve been trying to conjure up different ways to do this accumulating in several blog series ideas introducing different aspects of my every day PhD life and general lab life, to thinking up children’s storybooks and science colouring books – evidently my brain has been going a bit crazy recently with these ideas.
But going back to wanting to make it clearer about what I do every day and explaining what my day to day life in the lab might include, I thought I could start by starting a new feature – ‘Cellfie’ of the month! Hopefully this feature will show you the things I may see down a microscope and pictures of things that help me look at and look after my cells! Plus it will probably have lots of pretty pictures, so if colourful images don’t get people interested then I don’t know what will 😛
So, this brings me on my ‘Cellfie’ of the month for August. It is my favourite image that I’ve taken so far, so I could not think of a better place to start.
Anyone that knows me or has read my previous blog posts (please check them out if you haven’t!) knows that I work on embryonic stem cells and my research is focussing on keeping them as stem cells, or keeping them pluripotent.
So, there is a technique we often use in the lab that creates this beautiful images called immunocytochemistry. This involves using antibodies to stain my cells for a particular protein that I am interested in. So, when we are looking at embryonic stem cells, there are a heap of proteins we are interested in to know if our stem cells are staying as stem cells – we call them pluripotency markers. They are simply proteins that are expressed when stem cells are pluripotent, or the proteins that are expressed while these cells are embryonic stem cells. And when these embryonic stem cells differentiate, or start turning into other cell types, the expression of these pluripotency markers are lost.
So as part of my research, I need to show that the cells I am using for all my experiments are pluripotent stem cells. So I have shared with you my favourite image so far to answer this question. I have stained my embryonic stem cells for a protein that is expressed on the surface of my cells called TRA-1-60 shown in green. As there is lots of green staining, we know that there is lots of TRA-1-60 being expressed by these cells, so they are pluripotent stem cells. The blue staining is something that is done for all cell types, not just stem cells. It is called a DAPI stain and shows us the nucleus of the cells. Sometimes scientists will perform this technique to see where in their cells a particular protein is expressed, and the DAPI staining is used as a guide so we know if our protein is expressed in the nucleus, in the cytoplasm of a cell, or like my example here on the surface of the cells. Depending on where our proteins are expressed gives us a different pattern. Here, I’ve shown you the pattern for a surface protein – I will show you an example of a protein that is expressed in the nucleus in my next ‘cellfie’ of the month!
Being a research scientist, one of my aims is to get my research published! So for these types of images, we normally show an image of just the DAPI staining of the nuclei, one image showing the expression of your protein of interest and one image where you lay them on top of the other, where I’ve shown you the last two. All images also need a scale bar. So, if you had been wondering what that stupid little white line on my images was, there’s your answer. For these particular images, my scale bar represents 100 micrometres (um) – that’s 1000th of a millimetre!!!
Hopefully, that’s got you a little bit excited, or at least you enjoyed the pretty pictures that this technique can create! And it’s given you a small insight into what my life in the lab involves! I would love to hear from readers whether you have a scientific background or not, to know what you think! Please ask my any questions you have whether it be about my research, the technique or anything else you can think of! I will be more than happy to help you out!
So, that is your first ‘cellfie’ from me! The university where I work has a microscopy competition each Christmas and I’ve always been too nervous to enter this image. But this year I think I will – what have I got to lose eh?? As the image with the blue and green staining to me looks a bit like the Earth and I am, obviously, working on embryonic stem cells – I’m in the process of trying to think up a witty title focussing on ‘stem cells’ and them being ‘the world’ for future medicine! Or a corny take on that! Hah! Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated and rewarded with cake 🙂