Favourite Thing: Mitochondrial genome sequencing – and not only because it’s pretty much the only experiment I can always reliably get to work first time! It’s really interesting to look at the sequence of the whole mitochondrial DNA genome from a patient, and trying to find links between changes to the DNA and any patient symptoms!
Hebburn Comprehensive (GCSEs, 1999-2004), Newcastle RGS (A levels, 2004-2006)
Newcastle University (Human Genetics BSc, 2006 – 2009)
ASDA (Checkout girl), The Hotspur (Barmaid).
Newcastle University MRG (Mitochondrial Research Group)
I’m a second year PhD student at Newcastle University, studying the links between diseases of aging, and damage to mitochondrial DNA.
Me and my work
I look for links between damage to mitochondrial DNA and aging diseases, such as Mitochondrial disease, Alzheimers and Parkinsons.
Mitochondria are present in large numbers in every cell in the human body – they make all of the energy your body needs to work properly! They have their own DNA, which codes for lots of proteins that they need in order to make this energy. However, sometimes deletions can occur in this mitochondrial DNA – a large chunk goes missing, meaning the mitochondria can’t make all of the proteins they need any more. Because there are so many mitochondria in every cell, it doesn’t really matter if one or two stop working, but sometimes these deletions spread to lots of mitochondria, and this can cause a number of different illnesses. My job is to look as these mitochondria with deletions in their genomes, to work out how the deletions spread, and to find the links between mitochondrial deletions and the diseases they can cause.
My Typical Day
Amplifying DNA (using an experiment called PCR) and some sequencing, to look at mitochondrial DNA and to find deletions in it, to try and understand what these deletions do to cause disease. Plus drinking a lot of tea while I’m doing any analysis of results!
I usually do some sort of exercise before I come to work (swimming or running), so it takes a cup of tea and a bit of breakfast to get myself ready for the day when I arrive at work! Then I need to check my emails, to pencil in any meetings or talks I need to go to, and check results from any experiments I’ve left to run overnight (usually sequencing and/or PCR results). If I’m working with DNA samples, they’re ready to go straight away, but if I’m doing work on individual cells, I need to extract these from tissue sections using a laser – I can then extract DNA from these to look at mitochondrial DNA from each individual cell seperately. Then my day can go one of three ways, depending on what type of information I want from the samples I’m using. I can look for the size and site of DNA deletions (PCR and sequencing), the proportions of different deletion if there is more than one type within a cell (single molecule PCR), or I can look at the level of deletion, and total amount of mitochondrial DNA within a cell (real-time PCR). I usually finish up at work when its time to go and meet up with my triathlon club for another workout.
What I'd do with the money
I’d like to visit some schools that are taking part in I’m A Scientist, and come up withan idea together – something that the students could be part of too. :)
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Dedicated, optimistic, athletic.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Motion City Soundtrack, Zebrahead or Muse
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Open water triathlons :)
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To be good enough at a sport to go to the Olympics, to have enough money that I never have to worry about it (and can help lots of charities!), and to get my PhD without having to take my final exam!
What did you want to be after you left school?
When I was little I really wanted to be a vet, but I started changing my mind and wanting to go into science at about 14 or 15.
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Presented at a public engagment seminar – I really like talking to people about science generally and about my work, especially since I work in an area of science that not many people get a chance to hear about!