A placement in Developmental Neurobiology by Morgan M

Morgan describes her time in the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology at King’s College London.

Things were more than busy on my first Wednesday whilst working at the lab for my work placement at the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology at King’s College, not only was it my turn to work my way through the protocol for preparing coffee for the department that morning, but it was dissection day for Ivana (my postdoctoral supervisor). That meant that I had the pleasure in assisting her with the oculomotor nerve dissection she had planned for that day. As part of her project she needed to isolate cranial motor neurons from the this nerve found in the brain and later grow these cells in a culture to observe how their axons are guided to their targets during development.

Thursday proved to be busier in the lab as first thing that morning we got stuck into electroporation. Electroporation is a method that uses an externally applied electrical field on the cells of interest to increase the electrical conductivity and permeability of the cell plasma membrane. It is a way of introducing a substance into a cell, here we used it to insert DNA into our chosen cell (a process known as transfection). 

The second week of my neuroscience placement has seen me come into contact with some pioneering methods used within genetic science and many of the biosciences. One of which is the use of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This is a form of genotyping which allowed us to determine the differences in genotype of the individual organisms we were studying by examining their DNA sequences and comparing them. It involves artificial DNA replication so that samples of DNA can be amplified to generate millions of copies for genetic profiling. 

Gel electrophoresis. Now this is cool stuff. This particular technique is a modern molecular biology method used to separate out DNA fragments based on their size so that these fragments can be used for identification and analysis – this can tell us which genes are present in a sample and whether the individual expresses this gene or not. It uses an agarose gel with wells cut into it to place the DNA samples into, this is covered in a buffer solution in an electrophoresis tank  with electrodes attached at each end so that a current is passed through attracting the negatively charged DNA and separating it through the gel by base length. 

By Morgan M