I am a Biology major looking to veterinary medicine as my future career path. Many vet schools require research experience, so I jumped at the opportunity for a summer project with OSCAR. I found a mentor from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, where the National Zoo breeds endangered animals and performs research for conservation. My project is about in-vitro spermatogenesis, the production of sperm in a lab dish from testicular tissue. This could be very useful for endangered animals which die before reaching maturity or have fertility issues because it would allow them to still contribute their genetics to the population. However, in-vitro spermatogenesis has only been successful in mice and rats, so researchers at SC Blare working to produce sperm in the lab from lambs, as a model for endangered ungulate species.
My main task was to measure protein expression using a staining technique called immunohistochemistry. This two-day procedure involved taking microscope slides with the tissue samples and soaking them in a number of treatment solution search timed for specific durations. After staining was complete on day 2, I looked at the slides under a light microscope to analyze the staining pattern. To obtain the sample slides, I had to section paraffin wax blocks containing the tissue pieces using a microtome. I was busy in the lab, but I had time to read scientific articles during waiting periods so I could learn more about my topic.
One thing I discovered about research is that no matter what goes right or wrong in an experiment, there is always something to learn. One of my antibodies failed to work at all. However, my mentor used that opportunity to teach me about troubleshooting immunohistochemistry protocols. When I obtained positive results, I was able to understand the role of the protein in the cell and in spermatogenesis. Though my research part was small, I contributed to a much bigger picture for endangered animal conservation.