Debbie Knight

A story behind the research

In observation on February 6, 2013 at 9:00 am

One of the great things about going to a talk given by a scientist is that they sometimes drop in a little anecdote about their research.

I attended such a seminar yesterday.

The visiting scientist gave a talk about breast cancer. While this isn’t my area of research interest, I went primarily because it was my department’s seminar series and I felt obligated to attend.

It turned out to be an interesting talk about the effects of mutations in a receptor protein, its ligand and their influence on cancer cells.

But even more interesting was when she told us one of her technicians had manipulated some cultured cells so they no longer expressed the ligand protein (The protein is called Ephrin A1, in case you’re wondering.)

The technician noticed the treated cells had quite a number of little bubbles (or vacuoles) in them, more so than the untreated cells.

He mentioned this to his boss, the woman giving the lecture.

She admitted to the audience she dismissed his observation as an artifact from the treatment method (that would be transfection for those wondering).

But the technician thought there was something important going on. So without asking, he stained the cells with a special dye called oil red O. This dye stains fats (or as we call them, lipids).

Those little bubbles in the cells were loaded with fat.

His finding led to a whole new area of research in her lab.

She said she was happy that her tech hadn’t listened to her. (Take note all you research students and research associates out there!)

You’d never get that little nugget of fun in a scientific journal article.  But maybe scientists should include them 🙂

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