“As part of our research for the show, I have spent this morning in the Bioscience building at the University of Kent. Professor Darren Griffin has very kindly agreed to let me be a fly on the wall in their lab, so I can learn a bit more about genetics, discover what it’s like to work in a lab, and familiarise myself with lots of new terminology. Today has been fascinating – we started with a breakfast meeting. Prof. Darren leads an informal discussion around everyone’s work. Everyone talks about their current research, which ranges from trying to map a dinosaur genome, trying to improve chances of reproducing female pigs in farming, to looking at mouse sperm to understand why X chromosome sperm are more successful than Y.
Some things I learnt:
- Scientists face many the same struggles as artists – they too have to adapt and mould ideas and research to please funders, and fit budgets.
- Everybody has their own labelled lab coat (and you don’t wear someone else’s).
- When explaining research, scientists will simplify some things that are already easy to understand and then skip over complex terminology as if it is everyday language.
- Even when you work in reproductive science, jokes about testicles are funny.
- Women who become pregnant are limited by what they can research in the lab as some chemicals are mutagenic. Realistically this means that falling pregnant halts research for 18 months minimum.
- The Y chromosome is reducing over time – and no, that doesn’t mean men are becoming extinct.
- Mice are good to use as models because they have just 21 day gestation periods.
- Mice and chimps are promiscuous.
- When mice and chimps get pregnant, their vaginas are ‘plugged’ so that other males won’t try to mate. This makes it easy to see if they’re pregnant.
- Animal welfare is of utmost importance to scientists working with animals.
- Mouse sperm is hook shaped.
- Scientists don’t get a tan – ‘we spend all summer in the scope room’.
- You can put fluorescent die into sperm to see which are carrying the X and Y chromosomes.
I came across a whole vocabulary of new words which were alien to me but seemed totally normal to everyone working there…. histone, aliquot, avians, aneuploidy, oocytes, apoptosis, necrosis. The list goes on.
This has been a brilliant insight into what a day working in a lab would be like, about how scientists work and research, and to hear what exciting discoveries are being made in genetics.”
Courtesy of Catherine Nicholson who is one of our two performers in Re: Production. Just 4 more weeks until our first preview of the show..!