VIMS Research Project: Part 2

Project Results… Sort Of

So the rollercoaster that has been my research experiment continues. A few months ago, I ran my experiment (see the previous post for details) and got some unusual results. For some reason, when we did the plaque assay and stained the cells, we didn’t see clear, countable plaques. Instead, for most of the wells, there was a strange, “flushed-out” looking morphology. It appeared that there were areas that might be plaques, but they weren’t circular and distinct enough to count. Even the positive control exhibited this strange result. So, unfortunately, this meant that we weren’t able to get the data we needed to support or discount the hypothesis. But we didn’t stop there!

 

Fixing the Problems

My mentors and I decided to rerun the experiment, with some strategic changes, in order to hopefully solve the problem(s) enough to get decent results. Firstly, we planned to set-up the tanks in the usual room in the research laboratory, as opposed to the makeshift set-up in the incubator. We weren’t exactly sure what might be the problem with the incubator set-up, but perhaps there was too much vibration from the oxygen pumps or something that upset the cells. Next, we decided to prepare the cell plates 48 hours in advance as opposed to 24 hours. Older cells tend to be more settled and work better than younger cells. We hoped that these 2 major changes would get us the results we were looking for.

 

Better Results… But Still Not Great

Once again, we got unusual results. There was LOTS of contamination this time around, both bacterial and something that looked to be fungal. Unlike last time, however, the controls turned out beautifully! We took that as a good sign that the older cells made a significant difference. Now, it seemed like the only issue remaining was contamination, which is not surprising since the water we are collecting had a dead fish in it. However, it is not a problem that my mentors have encountered before since whenever they have done an experiment with dead fish, they were collecting water samples right after the fish died, not several days later.

 

Future Plans

I plan on doing a small experiment to test out some filters that the lab has in stock that we could potentially use to filter the dirty water before plating. Hopefully, the .2um filter they have will be able to filter out the bacteria but let the virus particles through. This way, we can get some usable results if we rerun the original experiment AGAIN.

 

Lessons Learned

Overall, though, I don’t consider the experiment(s) a failure. It simply didn’t provide us with the kind of information we expected. I think it was good for me to see that research experiments don’t always go as planned and often take multiple runs in order to work out the issues. I had always thought of science as a very linear process, but this project has gone forwards, backwards, and down new paths entirely. It has certainly been an exercise in patience and problem-solving, from start to not-yet-finished. But I’m excited to keep working at it and so thankful to the Charles Center for the opportunity to experience running my own research experiment!