Yesterday, I met with my PI (principle investigator) - he is the one who is officially in charge of the lab. Through a two hour Socratic-like meeting, we went over a possible problem for me to research and probe. As this is my first chance to dive in and really become immersed in a problem, I'd like to document how I get there...how I plan experiments, and reagents, possible trouble-shooting, knowing lots of background...that sort of thing.
The first step is understanding the basics of our lab. Our goal is to build better and more effective molecular tools in order to help scientists understand organisms that don't follow the expected course. Generally, scientists use a suite of organisms from "least complex" to "most complex" in order to test hypotheses: e. coli, yeast, cells from mammals, C. elegans (a worm-like nematode), fruit flies, mice, rats, and humans. Yet, there are many organisms that don't act exactly like these systems that have been rigorously hacked: we have to engineer new ways to use what we know to come up with a way to solve what we don't know.
One of these organisms is Plasmodium falciparum, better known as the parasite that causes malaria (the red things above are red blood cells, and the crescent-looking shapes are the parasite). I'm going to be posting much more about malaria in the future, but for now it's most important to realize that malaria is a disease caused by a parasite we truly don't understand. They are a black box, and in the last thirty years of research, we've poked holes in this box, but due to the nature of the parasite, we haven't learned nearly enough to affect drug development or disease control of malaria.
Thus, the lab is focusing on engineering biological tools to help study malaria and other nonconventional organisms...which brings you to my project. Due to intellectual property concerns, I am going to have to be a bit vague, but if you ever have more specific questions, don't hesitate to ask.