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Ganell Jones: Biomedical Research Internship at UAMS

This past summer, I had the pleasure of being a part of the IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. My hopes for this summer were to sharpen my laboratory, scientific writing, and communication skills. With high hopes of achievement and the chance to utilize all of the techniques I learned in class, I did all that and more.

I joined Dr. Justin Leung’s lab investigating the DNA damage repair pathway in the Department of Radiation Oncology for the summer. Although I had been eager to start, the truth is, I was so nervous the first day I mistakenly mixed two of the wrong reagents in a reaction and had to redo the experiment the following day. After the first week, I started getting familiar with the protocols and took pride in writing very detailed notes. I asked questions – lots of questions. I also did a lot of reading and independent study. I wanted answers to my questions, and as I said, I had a lot of questions. Before July started, I had nearly run out of pages in my notebook. The more I learned, the more questions I would have. I was an inquirer, many times, going down rabbit holes as I would go through papers and their references. As I started to understand the individual reactions and how they aligned with the project, I was finally speaking, writing, and doing science. 

The goal of my project was to dissect the molecular genetics of the histone variant, H2AX, c-terminal tail and investigate its biological functions in the DNA damage response. Alanine mutagenesis was used to evaluate the contribution of individual amino acids on the H2AX c-terminal to the DNA damage response pathway. One at a time, we substituted each amino acid to alanine to observe its effects. We analyzed the recruitment of DNA damage response associated proteins with each mutation to determine its contribution. This process was neither always easy, nor always challenging. It did, however, take some time to learn. .Some days we risked contamination, or our experiments did not work, and we were back to square one, but every day I was proud of the work I was doing and had done. 

As the program came to an end, I got the chance to showcase my project. Through the INBRE program, I produced my first publication and had the opportunity to present an oral presentation on my project. Again, I did this nervously, but if I have learned anything this summer, it is to step out of my comfort zone. This summer, I got the chance to push my abilities to new heights. I embarked on this journey with a few minor goals, but I accomplished way more. I developed new ways of thinking, learned lots of new techniques, and got the chance to be a part of an amazing group of people making memories that I’ll forever cherish.