Debbie Knight

About me…

I’ve worked in biological research labs at two universities for over 20 years — primarily studying viruses.  Meanwhile, I’ve kept my eyes and ears open and learned about science and how science works — as an investigation as well as a business.

I started out as a lab technician in an environmental research lab at Purdue University.  The research group was  trying to find bacteria (or a group of bacteria) that could degrade agricultural pesticides.  What I found was a bug that could degrade aniline (which is simply a ring of six carbons (called a benzene ring) with an extra little NH2 stuck on it — a wee bit of a challenge for a microbe to break open but the form that many pesticides degrade down to and stop).  What was unique about this microbe I dubbed DAK 3 is that it could use this ring structure as a source of “food” even when there was plenty of glucose (table sugar) around.  Typically, microbes are rather lazy — they’ll use the easiest “food” source around, which in this case would be glucose.  Other than a manuscript published with my name included in the list of authors, nothing much came of this discovery.

A couple of years later, I moved to another state and began my career as a research associate at a university in a virology lab.  (Note: I can no longer be specific to the “where” because some of my posts could have an adverse impact on the university and that is not my intention. I merely wish to tell you about what life is like in a university research lab — that university could be any where.)

The first skill I had to learn (and at first I had a difficult time wrapping my head around this idea):  instead of wanting the bacteria to grow in culture, the goal was to avoid bacterial contamination in the mammalian cell cultures.

Over the  past 20 years, I have studied:

  • how a virus called cytomegalovirus (which is related to the herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores) hides from the immune system,
  • been on the ground floor in the discovery of an anti-viral drug (against cytomegalovirus) that has shown some promise in organ transplant patients,
  • discovered this same drug is effective against several other unrelated viruses, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV — which causes a lot of problems in newborn babies) and the polyomavirus BK-virus (which causes trouble in kidney transplant patients),
  • studied how HIV might pass from an HIV-infected mother, through the placenta, to infect a baby while it is still in the womb
  • how a rare neurological syndrome  may be caused by antibodies that recognize the cells that line the blood vessels (called endothelial cells) causing damage in the brain, eyes, and ears.

I’ve seen firsthand how the National Institute of Health (NIH) budget can affect research as well as careers.

I’ve worked with many research and medical scientists as well as graduate students, medical students, and undergraduate students.

In this blog, I hope to share these experiences.  And who knows, maybe somewhere along the way, you’ll learn something you didn’t know about the ins and outs of science.  No agenda — just what it’s like to be a “lab rat.”

  1. Hi Debbie: I saw on Twitter that you’re a journalism major. Ping me if you’re interested in writing for our college magazine, News in Engineering,

  2. Debbie, A couple scientist friends and I are creating a website for scientists. Lab managers will be a major user of this site (we think). Your experience is valuable. Can I interview you for about 20 minutes, about your experiences searching for and comparing the price & quality of lab supplies?
    We are also in the process of recruiting bloggers. You’re high on that list. 🙂 I’ll tell you more if you’re interested. letubeu at

    Thank u Debbie. Tom.

    • Sure you can interview me, but I get all nervous when I’m on the other end of questions so you may get only gibberish (like a linked series of giggles and “uhs”) — not great for quotable material. 🙂

      Interested in the blogging opportunity. Will contact you.

  3. Hi Debbie,
    I’ve read quite a few of your blog entries, and find your writing and what you do pretty interesting.
    Right now I’m in grad school, coming closer to the finish line :), and have started talking to people about transitioning into a career, and figuring out possible directions before I graduate.
    Since you have extensive experience in this field I was wondering if I could maybe pick your brain about it? We could talk over email or any other communication that you’d prefer.

    Once again, thanks for the effort you put into your blog.
    Keep those entries coming! 🙂

    Take care,

  4. Outstanding blog about everyday work. Truly inspiring! Full of detailed, first-hand information of the intricacies of research. Thank you for communicating with the world about your work.

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