Picture 1 – A typical vial of fruit flies, plugged with cotton. The writing shows the date they were bottled, the genders, and the strains.
Picture 2 – A very nice graduate student prepping some ovaries on a slide for me to look at.
Picture 3 – A picture highlighting the nuclei of an egg chamber, which contains an oocyte (egg cell) and it's supporting cells so that it can grow.
Picture 4 – Pizza!
Day two of our internship week started bright and early for me, with a 6 am self-enforced wake-up call that is required so that I don't show up to work looking like a gremlin. My host mom, a lovely woman who is determined to feed me to the point of bursting, also works at my internship site and leaves every morning at 7. In order to avoid getting lost on public transportation, I get up early and sit in the car with her and my host sister, who also works in the same building. And then I drink freshly ground coffee from a machine in the office. Not a bad deal, really.
My internship is at the Nanjing University's Model Animal Research Center. Although this facility is mostly focused on research on a wide variety of mice strains, other model organisms are also used including zebrafish, frogs, etc. I am staying in Dr. Jiong Chen's lab this week, which primarily focuses on Drosophila melanogaster or the common fruit fly. Its ovaries are a wonderful resource for learning how cell clusters migrate through tissues together, which is useful information that can be used to understand tumor metastasis, among other things. These first few days I have been doing a lot of reading, watching others work with flies, and question asking. Two particularly helpful graduate students have shown me fly dissections, fly food preparation, fly identification and separation techniques, and lots of pretty colored pictures of fly ovary egg chambers. I was also handed an old handbook (That actually used to be Dr. Chen's when he went to UCLA!) with all the precious secrets of 'fly pushing', or basically how to create and maintain and work with flies with all kinds of different mutations. I had no idea that flies were such good model organisms – I just thought that they grew quickly and were easy to take care of, but their usefulness as in vivo models extends beyond that. The males apparently experience no recombination within their chromosomes at all while creating sperm, which means it's easier to determine if their offspring have the mutation that is desired or not. Since genetic studies require extremely pure lines in order to study the phenotype of certain mutations, this is very useful within a model organism.
Normally my host mother would drive us home as well, but today Li Yue (my host sister) and I had to find our way home ourselves. Luckily there's a convenient shuttle bus from the research center that takes us to a bus stop, which we rode straight to a Pizza Hut for dinner. I know what you're thinking – why would you go to a Pizza Hut when you can eat authentic Chinese food? Well, Pizza Huts in China are quite different from the fast-food establishments in the U.S., and I felt like I had to check it out. They're super fancy on the inside, with nice plush booths and real menus and wait staff who give you lemon water. Plus, the menu has things like steak, red wine, appetizers, and various rice dishes (it is China, after all). My host sister and I enjoyed a little pizza topped with vegetables and bits of salmon wrapped in bacon…seriously. It was so nice.
It's starting to dawn on me now that there's only about a week left of this dialogue before I go back to the states. Although I'm excited to see my family again, I can't help but feel bittersweet. I know there are many things here that I won't have the chance to see for a very long time. Still, I'm pretty sure my lungs will thank me when I land in Texas where the sky is literally blue and clear every day. And I need to exercise regularly when I get home. The food here just tastes too good!
Here's to another week full of adventures, food, and smog!