I am currently an Undergraduate Neuroscience major at Mason and a Research Assistant at the Krasnow Institute in the laboratory of Dr. Ted Dumas.
Dr. Dumas is mentoring me on a project designed to enable visual measurement of neuronal activity in hundreds to thousands of neurons simultaneously in behaving animals with genetically encoded optical voltage sensors. This approach involves fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) interaction between a fluorescent protein (XFP) tagged to the cell membrane and an exogenous chemical, dipicrylamine (DPA), that intercalates into the cell membrane. We will optimize this system to observe fluorescent signals produced by single action potentials in hippocampal neurons. Genetically encoded voltage probes will enable us to image and record electrical activity in real time, linking temporal and spatial properties of hippocampal neuronal ensemble activation patterns to spatial cognition and episodic memory.
I am gaining skills in molecular biology, including plasmid transformation into bacteria and amplification/purification of plasmid from bacteria, restriction digests, and gel electrophoresis, along with cloning techniques such as vector design, polymerase chain reaction, restriction digests, and ligation reactions. Gaining expertise in these skills will broaden my perspective on scientific inquiry and will improve my chances of acceptance into the graduate program of my choosing. This project is important to me because it will enable us to image and record the spiking activity of neurons in a revolutionary way; far exceeding the electrophysiological approaches standardly practiced. Improvement of voltage sensor technology points toward significant advancements in neuroscience.