Ratones y Gel Electrophoresis

Now, I am living in Veronica´s house with Juli and Poli, her two daughters. To me, they´re just my nieces… none of that second or third niece talk. Poli is nine years old, and loves arts and crafts, so I taught her how to make a new type of friendship bracelet and now that´s all she does when she´s at home. We even made each other matching ones using two rainbow-colored threads and two white ones. I´ve never had relatives in this generation before – nieces or nephews or kids of my own (of course) – so I am loving being an aunt!

The activities over the last couple of days have included walking around the central city, having lunch with great aunts, and going to see the Chicago theater production all in Spanish – even the songs! ´All That Jazz´ becomes ´Sigue el Jaz´. Everything in Spanish! I´m pretty sure I even had a dream in Spanish last night.

However, the most exciting events, for me, have been visiting the science labs that Claudia and Veronica work in (Science labs more exciting than Chicago. Hmm.). Claudia studied biology, and her work pertains to breast cancer, especially in relation to estrogen and progesterone and other hormones. All I had to do was sign in, and then we climbed down a widely spiraling staircase to reach the newly constructed laboratories. I followed Claudia through multiple doors, and along hallways. We put showercap-like covers over our shoes and hair and sterile masks over our mouths. Finally, through an archway, we entered a room entirely full of rows of racks of cages of tiny mice. The room was dedicated to nothing else. I followed Claudia along the rows, occasionally stepping into a row to see something interesting. I saw mice without hair, mice with tiny babies, mice with organs dyed fluorescent green, and mice with lumpy tumors as big as their heads. All existed solely for the purpose of these scientific experiments. Of course I had heard of experiments using mice, and even been staunchly against this sort of animal testing as a middle schooler, but I had never put an image in my head of what it might really look like to be doing the experiments. And though these days I don´t know where I ethically stand on the issue, it was so scientifically interesting to me to be in this room totally full of tiny test subjects.

The next day, I visited the laboratory at the University of Buenos Aires where Veronica works on behavioral neurology and memory. Her science is what she calls basic science; it´s science where the goal is to gain knowledge of processes and biology for the sake of knowledge. In the future, it could definitely be of medical use or of some other practical use for humans, but for now, they are just figuring out how things work. Veronica had to do an experiment the morning that I came in to work. If I understood correctly, it has to do with one of two processes that take place when someone recalls something they have learned in the past: either re-remembering, or forgetting. They are trying to determine the chemical differences between these processes, and they have found one protein that exists in one and not in the other. Her experiment had to do with testing if a certain different protein is attached to that specific protein in the cell.

We walked into the lab, a square room totally filled with bottles and apparatuses. Much of it looked familiar: there were centrifuges, graduated cylinders of all sizes, tiny test tubes, and bottles of chemicals with familiar names. Everything looked like a total mess, but from all the labels on the shelving you could tell that there was some order to the madness. Veronica told me that she had to do a gel electrophoresis. Ah! Gel electrophoresis! I know what that is! We did that in Mark´s biology class last year to separate proteins and see which one was which! All the steps looked the same to me: using a pipette to squirt tiny amounts of liquid into test tubes, using an aparatus to mix everything together, and squirting the liquids into the tiny wells in the gel with the pipette again. I perched myself on a stool so as not to go knocking over dangerous chemicals or glass jars, and asked Veronica as many questions as possible when it did not look like she was focusing on keeping the different liquids separate. I talked to another woman in the lab, too, and even took a midday mate break with two of Veronica´s colleagues.

As we waited for the gel electrophoresis to take place after we connected the electrical current, we walked around the department where Veronica worked and around others where she had colleagues. We saw hallways lined with refrigerators, transparent frogs, colorful posters with complicated graphs and diagrams, a room to test the response of crabs to shade and light, and many scientists, men and women, experimenting and analyzing and in general seeming so interested in what they were doing. Veronica kept asking me if I was bored, but I felt completely the opposite: everything in the lab – each poster, each device – fascinated me and I wanted to know the details of all of it.

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7 Responses to Ratones y Gel Electrophoresis

  1. Jessica says:

    I was reading this in my grandparents’ kitchen (it’s about -20˚F outside!) and laughed out loud at “Sigue el Jaz” and my grandparents started laughing too even though they had no idea what I was reading! Hahaha.

    Anyways, this all sounds so interesting! It’s awesome that in another country, speaking another language, the same tools and procedures are still being used. It’s really nice to remember the fact that regarding things like cancer, people all around the world are working towards finding cures and learning more about the chemical processes behind it. It’s like the whole world of scientists is working together in the same lab group.

  2. baby silas mreeeow says:

    i think i have a new life slogan. [sigue el jaz.] also, memory is actually the coolest–did she say anything about long term synaptic potentiation/depression (essentially the alteration of synaptic strengths to encode memories)? dooooo not know how that translates into español but they have to do with these two kinds of receptors, AMPA and NMDA, which reminded me of the two proteins you were talking about…

  3. PapaG says:

    I should have taken you to our labs long ago! Glad that was fun!

  4. PapaG says:

    Did you know the drugs I am taking into a Phase 3 study block nmda receptors?

  5. Carmen says:

    Cora, Im so glad you’re having a good time down in my old country with my family and relatives. Please say hello to all of them.

  6. Maddy Scheer says:

    hahahhaha i love how there is a “baby silas mreeooowww”

    i miss you cora, so so much!!

    i ran at bon tempe today and listened to thirteen by Ben Kweller, the same place where you showed me that song!! It brought back good memories 🙂

    love you!

  7. susan perlstein says:

    Cora, you write as passionately about the lab as you did about permaculture….hmmmm…… it’s as if there is a science gene coursing thru your blood – oh that’s right there is:) and you are understanding all of this in spansih? Is there no end to how remarkable you are?!?!? xoxo Susan

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