Friday, May 15, 2015

URSP Student Heather Hobbs Researches the Role of Intercellular Communication in Infectious Disease Progression

Hi, my name is Heather Hobbs and I am doing research in Dr. Hakami’s lab at the NCBID. Being a biology undergraduate student, I am exposed to numerous facets of biology since it is such a diverse field. I have always been more interested in microbiology and infectious diseases. My project specifically peaked my interest when I was able to work in my mentor’s lab in the fall of 2014 through the Biology Research Semester. Long term, I hope to be accepted into Mason’s Accelerated Master’s Program for Biology. After I graduate, I hope to ultimately pursue a career in the research field, so being a part of the USRP is going to be invaluable moving forward.

In regards to my research, we know that when human cells are stressed, they release packages that can contain proteins or genetic material. These packages are called “exosomes.” The process of collecting these exosomes begins with infecting half of our cells with Yersinia pestis (the bacteria that causes Black Death/plague). This procedure takes two days to complete. At the end, we have exosomes from Y. pestis infected cells and exosomes from uninfected cells. We know from previous experiments that if we treat uninfected cells with exosomes collected from infected cells, the recipient cells grow much more slowly than when exposed to exosomes from uninfected cells. This slower growth phenotype is similar to cells infected with Y. pestis bacteria. The goal of my research this semester is to try to understand how the cell growth phenotype is coming about, and to explore any other effects that may be caused by these exosomes obtained from an infected source.

This week, I learned how important time management is. Because some of our experiments can take more than one day, it is crucial to be able to plan ahead to ensure that everything is as efficient as it can possibly be. Otherwise, experiments can run late into the evening or even into the weekend. Overall, performing research as an undergrad has been one of the most beneficial, enjoyable, and rewarding things that I could have ever chosen to do.