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The Lab Life- Sam Askin

At the end of my sophomore year I applied for a job working as an undergrad in Dr. Nairn’s lab here in Warnell. His lab focuses on the population genetics of Loggerhead sea turtles from the southeastern United States. They use a DNA fingerprinting process so that we can identify the turtle mothers and their offspring. This can give us an indication on how well the population is doing and recovering after decades of decline.

The process starts with collection groups that go out and retrieve hatched eggs from nests. We receive egg shells from North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Once they are collected and labeled they are sent to the lab here in Warnell.

My part in this process is taking the hatched sea turtle egg samples and cutting them up using tweezers and scissors. Making them into smaller pieces allows for DNA to be extracted easily. After samples have been chopped up, they are sent into the extraction process. Using lysis and wash buffers DNA can be removed from the egg shells. I get to use centrifuges, pipettes, and a vacuum manifold in this process.

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After my part is finished, the DNA that was extracted goes through the process of PCR. This is a technology in microbiology where a single copy, or a few copies of a piece of DNA is amplified creating thousands of copies of a DNA sequence.

Using this process each turtle given a fingerprint is identified. So far over 800 turtle mothers have been given a fingerprint. Along with identifying individuals, this lab also records where each sea turtle nested and the nest fidelity (returning to the same nest site). The lab has even found a family match from a mother and a daughter. This is neat because on average most Loggerhead sea turtles don’t become sexually mature until 30 years.

I am so thankful to be working in a lab here at Warnell. I think that doing so can provide great experience for future jobs after graduation. I would highly recommend researching faculty that have labs in Warnell in an area of study you are interested in. Working with Dr. Nairn is very educational as well as fun!

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