Research update: December 2015

Protected from the cold by a thick glove, I dip my test tubes into liquid nitrogen to freeze the plant tissue.

Protected from the cold by a thick glove, I dip my test tubes into liquid nitrogen to freeze the plant tissue.

As 2015 came to a close, my winter research got quite cold! But I wasn’t outside like you might think. I was actually in the lab trying out a new protocol using liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen can be used to flash freeze things extremely quickly. In my case, I used this liquid to freeze my tiny little plant seedlings before I crushed the tissue in order to extract DNA. I thought that that extreme freezing would help so that more of the cells in the plant seedlings would get shattered when the tubes were shaken a very high speeds. I think this technique is helping me to get as much DNA from my seedlings as possible. This is important because the seedlings are so small so they don’t have a lot of DNA to begin with. In December I used this technique several times to extract DNA from the offspring of the plants I was working with last summer. The next steps are to see if I can use another procedure to make many copies of the small amount of DNA that I was able to extract and then to see if I can determine where the pollen came from for each seedling. I still have a great deal of work to do for this project but winter is a good time to be inside the laboratory in Chicago.

I added small metal beads to my test tubes with the tiny seedlings to help break up the cells and extract the DNA.

I added small metal beads to my test tubes with the tiny seedlings to help break up the cells and extract the DNA.

This past month, I also did a lot of writing and continued to read work from other scientists and think about how their work relates to what I am finding from my own green roof data. In a study I conducted in Germany in 2013, I hypothesized that green roofs would have similar types of plants that grow during different stages. For example, maybe plants that were very good at spreading their seeds would arrive at green roofs shortly after they were built and then plants that were more competitive and better than others at using resources like water and nutrients would be more common later on. But what I actually found was that each green roof seems to play by its own rules with different groups coming and going at different times. So now I’m working on making figures, finding more resources and using the other similar studies to write up an official report that will be reviewed by a small group of scientists, edited and then submitted to a scientific journal for publication. I’m learning that this is actually a very long and involved process. But when it’s complete, my hope is that many scientists and other interested people from around the world will be able to learn something from my research. I’ll keep working on this writing throughout the winter.

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