Hello! I’m Gintare (Gin for short, and yes, I like gin…) and I’m a second year PhD student here at Randall. I work at Jim McDonnell’s lab and we’re curious how the molecules involved in the allergic response all work together. So I get to study both human proteins (a special class of antibodies, called IgEs) and allergens from pollen and use a bunch of biophysical techniques to see how they interact and how it leads to allergic response. 

7:10 am

Good morning, London! Mornings are slow, but it’s always exciting to see where my experiments will take me today, so better get going!

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While getting ready, I pack my lunch, although it’s easy to just grab something from one of many shops around, sandwiches do get boring eventually (also, I would go broke very quickly…)!

9:30 am

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Traffic is a struggle even for the cyclists!

Managed to make it to the office in one piece, which is always rewarding when you decide to cycle in a city like London! First things first, I do my little round around the lab to make sure everything is as I left it yesterday, and remind myself what I was doing.

I’m not sure how others manage it, but I tend to cycle through periods of little work/crazy work, and it’s because I keep picking up little ‘side quests’ – experiments that don’t take much time individually but when combined, there’s more than enough. Eventually, everything starts falling apart, then I drop a few things and restart. Could work with better planning there, but I never learn on this one, haha…

9:40 am

Coffee while I plan my day – today I have to run a few protein gels, check on the cells I’m growing, give blood (for science!), go to a lab meeting, and I have a Japanese language class after work, let’s get this done (it’s the caffeine speaking now)!

10 am

Okay, I’m all pumped up to see what my last day’s experiment looks like. I have taken some magnetic beads (because magnets are fun, and we do fun stuff here), and attached a type of macromolecule (protein) on them. This protein interacts (or should do!) with a type of antibody which causes all the trouble in allergies, and I wanted to see if I can ‘pull down’ the antibody using the beads I’ve made.

But I can’t just look at my beads and say ‘yep, there’s definitely my protein bound there’, as protein molecules are teeny tiny and most of the time colourless too (booooring) so I use a technique called SDS PAGE to visualise the proteins on the gel. Using this, I separate proteins based on their size and when I add stain to the gel, protein bands stained with blue dye show up. Yay for science!

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12:30 pm

Lunch while the gel is staining.

The lunch I’ve packed was supposed to be a frittata with a side salad, but it’s clearly a massive salad with a side frittata, oh well!

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Brave face trying not to look where the needle will go… All for science!

1:00 pm

Just casually donating some blood to my friend Jack  – he’s also a PhD student and studies a type of white blood cells, called B cells, and he’s after mine! (I serve as a ‘healthy’ donor, but that’s all up for a debate, haha…)

Depending on the project, you may rely a lot on donations and constant supply patient samples to keep your project going.

I can generate my research reagents without having to stab other people, so lucky me!

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2:00 pm

Lab meeting. We have weekly lab meetings, and that’s when we share our past week’s progress with other people in the group. My group is quite small so we all get a say – in larger groups it might be a different person presenting every week, and everyone gets their ~60ish minutes of fame eventually. We do that in our ‘super group’ meetings, which is a joint meeting between four groups that have similar interests, and in my case, it’s allergies and asthma.

It’s an open secret that I chose my supervisor based on the quality of the brownies he gets for the lab meetings…

Two years in, not disappointed!

4:00 pm 

The lab meeting went on for a bit, and after another coffee, I’m back on track! I haven’t forgotten my little ‘pets’, the mammalian cell lines that I grow in tightly controlled incubators. I’m looking after two kinds of them at the moment – one is a cell line that someone else in the lab made it has membrane version of IgE on its surface so lots of cool stuff can be done there! The other cell line expresses the receptor for the IgE on its surface and is used for allergic response assays.

First, I check how the cells are looking and count them. I can then plate them at a known cell count, making sure that as they grow and divide they’ll still be happy in time for my assay! I plate them in a 96-well plate, so I have 96-different conditions I can try on them (a lot of them will actually be repeats of each other, and also all sorts of controls, but it’s better to play it safe and ensure it’s a top-notch experiment!).

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Needles seem to be following me, as these crystals are sort of needle-shaped! Let’s hope they’re made of what I was aiming for.

6:30 pm

I went to the X-ray lab to check how the protein complex I’ve set up is crystallising. Scientists grow protein crystals and then shoot them with X-rays, the diffraction pattern they get can be used to determine the protein three-dimensional structure, so you’re more informed how those teeny tiny proteins interact with each other. I’m not quite there yet, and I’m looking for good protein crystal growth conditions.

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The sparkly and pretty crystals here are actually salt crystals at the bottom of the well. They’re totally useless, but can be very pretty to look at!

7:00 pm

Leaving the office for Japanese class at Strand campus. My friend Grace and I signed up for it last year and have made it to level 2 so far. The only things I feel confident saying is my name and asking where the toilets are, so I guess I’m fluent, heh.

7:30 – 9:00 pm

Japanese language class. It’s organised by KCL, but anyone can pay for the course and attend, so here I’ve met a lot of different people from all sorts of backgrounds, and it’s really interesting to hear why they’re motivated to learn a new language. Hint: general consensus in the class is that the Japanese language is pretty cool. Can’t argue with that!

9:30 pm

Dinner and sunsets, pretty good deal!

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11:30 pm

That’s it, can’t take this day anymore!

post by Gintare Bucaite

gintare.bucaite@kcl.ac.uk