Tuesday, May 7, 2013

URSP Student Francis Aguisanda Studies miRNAs and their Influence on how Neurons Develop in the Drosophila Peripheral Nervous System

When I joined the Cox lab, I had the benefit of being able to select from a wide variety of potential projects to participate in. I chose to study miRNAs and their influence on how neurons develop in the Drosophila peripheral nervous system because RNA interference is such an important and “hot” area in molecular biology. miRNAs are very small RNA molecules that are able to regulate the expression of many different genes. Determining which miRNAs influence neuron development will give us very interesting insight into what genes influence how and why neurons create the structures that they do.

I am very interested in pursuing research in the future. I am still in the process of deciding whether or not to pursue a career in medicine or applied biological research. Regardless of where I go with my education, the techniques I have learned while pursuing undergraduate research have helped me immensely. I have had the benefit of learning many interesting techniques that will be great to apply to future projects.

On any given week, I am making genetic crosses between flies of different mutations to design flies that have the genetic material that I desire. I also spend time taking images of neurons via a confocal microscope, which is able to take many pictures of a single object along the Z axis and compress them. This allows us to create a comprehensive two dimensional image of a three dimensional object. I also spend time isolating neurons of interest from the fly larvae. 

One thing that I discovered this week is that when we remove certain miRNAs from the fly, it has a statistically significant effect on the expression of certain genes. This is very exciting, as it confirms that the genes that I predicted would be targets of these miRNAs are, in fact, targets.