Using a traditional approach to genetics, we are looking for an enhancer to the mad1 mutant. The MAD1 gene plays an important role in the plant cell cycle by helping control the split of chromosomes during mitosis in animals and yeast, but its function in plants is not well understood. We believe that mad1 has an enhancer working parallel to it because plants suffer much less from a MAD1 mutation than animals and yeast, which all have the MAD1 gene.
The experiment itself is constantly screening plants that show an amplified phenotype expressed by mad1 mutant: smaller size and faster life cycle. Thousands of Arabidopsis seeds are treated with EMS which can introduce point mutations in the genome. Those that survive have some of their seeds collected and planted in flats of soil to perform the primary screen. We screened mutants that showed smaller size and early flowering compared to mad1 mutant. Those that do not show the desired phenotypes are uprooted, and the ones that do, have their seeds collected and planted in a well-controlled condition to confirm that the phenotypes are not due to the environment.
This screen will last for many more plant generations than the ones in which I interned here, so there are no conclusive results yet.
As someone with very little previous lab experience, I learned some important ins-and-outs of working in a plant research lab, including how to do PCR and electrophoresis! Many of the tasks in the lab have been manual and somewhat repetitive, but with some good music they were almost therapeutic.
Since I have not made my final decision as to what scientific field I will pursue in college, this lab experience was very valuable to me. I was able to learn firsthand what exactly I like and do not like about biology labs in particular, as opposed to the chemistry labs to which I am more accustomed. Instead of taking someone else’s word for it, I had the opportunity to draw my own conclusions.
The overall experience was very pleasant for me, even though I was essentially working full-time and did not have much time to myself this summer (future interns, take this time commitment into consideration!). The lab group was friendly and helpful, and my mentor helped me develop greatly as a lab worker.