Wet lab during a pandemic

November 13, 2020

Macy Vollbrecht

As Anna alluded to last week, we are in lockdown. For me–one of the few wet-lab researchers of the cohort–this surprisingly means that not much has changed in my day-to-day schedule from pre-lockdown. I work at the Sainsbury Laboratory (SLCU), which is a research institute dedicated to plant growth and development, and is aptly positioned next to the Cambridge University botanical garden. SLCU has been operating on a reduced schedule for several months now, which has not changed with lockdown. Each researcher is allotted 4 days per week in lab, and up to 10 hours each day (with exceptions here and there for experimental needs). My 4 days are on a 2-week schedule: week one is M, W, Th, F and week 2 is T, W, Th, Sat. This way our lab can rotate the lucky people who are slotted on Saturday. This schedule isn’t overly restrictive from my perspective, apart from some tasks that require sequential days in lab. Other changes are felt to a greater extent when I’m actually in the lab. For instance, training from 2 meters away can be difficult when working with 2 cm stem segments, and the same goes for learning how to perform microscopy in a room that is now 1-person only. There is also a one-way system marked on the floor throughout the building to aid in keeping distance. Certain equipment and rooms can only be booked in set shifts that include an unoccupied period between shifts to ensure sufficient ventilation. All in all, wet lab research is functioning, just in a somewhat restricted manner, and I have definitely been impressed by the creativity at SLCU to remain open despite these new challenges.

Through my MPhil research, I’m studying how plants decide whether or not to make branches, primarily through using genetic and physiological approaches. As such, I’ve been sowing lots of Arabidopsis seeds for planned experiments, and doing some necessary molecular biology tasks and planning while these plants are growing. My lab members have been so helpful and welcoming, and have provided lots of support during a strange start to research. I am planning to add a more computational aspect to my project, as I’m excited to get more experience with bioinformatics and I think this aspect will complement my experimental work well. I am also taking a biostatistics training course, which was recommended highly by a lab member and has been greatly useful so far. In my mind, the wet lab pandemic-restrictions provide a nice opportunity to develop dry lab skills, and I am finding many resources at Cambridge to do just that.

Outside of research, I spend most of my time at home in 64 Storey’s Way, where I have thoroughly enjoyed the company of my house mates. It has been fun discussing British vs. American vocabulary discrepancies, learning to play Monopoly-money-poker and Among Us, and attending Sunday night house dinners. Alice and I cooked Greek-baked orzo and Shakshuka a couple of weeks ago, which was quite fun. I also celebrated my 23rd birthday this past week with too much cake thanks to lab mates and house mates. I feel relieved that the College and University are faring relatively well with COVID cases, and I think this outcome is a testament to the fully-engaged community at Cambridge. I feel optimistic about the rest of the year in regards to the pandemic, my research project, and continuing to find community within Cambridge.

Sunday night dinner on November 1st.

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