So since this is different than my past travels in that I’m not studying like in Greece or on an organized weeklong trip like Costa Rica, my days look a little different. It’s summer, so most kids are off at internships or back home at jobs for the summer. That is exactly what I’m doing here.
My internship is at a lab at the University of the Republic (UdelaR– Universidad de la Republica) which is the national public university in Uruguay. I took on my own part of a larger study that’s been going on for more than ten years here. It’s about potato genetics and crop wild relatives. Remember the potato famine? Well that is directly applicable to what I’m doing.
The potato famine happened because there was a lack of genetic diversity in the potato crop planted making it extremely vulnerable to a fungal disease that wiped out the harvest in Ireland. By introducing more diversity, it can withstand different pests and diseases.
*Fore warning: the pictures are a lot cooler than the words in this post lol*
So my schedule goes like this:
Between 8:00 – 8:30am: Wake up.
Leave for work a half an hour before I get there: Walk for 15 minutes, take bus for 15 minutes. I usually run into several stray dogs on my walk. They make me quite nervous as I’m still a person who is afraid of dogs (I know, I know, major character flaw).
Between 9:30 – 10:30am: Arrive at the university. Yes I know this is late. It seems most things don’t open till around then here. But remember, late start= late end. Cultural note: their greeting is a kiss on one cheek. Even upon meeting someone for the first time, you are expected to kiss them on the cheek (just like a quick peck). While it’s normal for us to just walk in a room and say hello out loud and maybe a wave and a smile, they are accustomed to walking up to everyone. It was hard to adjust to at first! Americans are so afraid of touch lol.
Mornings at the lab: Run a PCR. I have to make a mix and a mix that goes into that mix and then I have to put that mix in a bunch of tiny test tubes and then I have to add DNA to those test tubes. Then I put it in the actual PCR machine which just makes a ton of copies of the DNA. Preparation takes about 45 – 60 minutes. The machine takes 2.5 hours.
While it’s in the machine: Eat lunch. I either grab a to-go sandwich and eat in the lab building or I grab lunch at the cafeteria with Gina, Sandro, Venancio, and Ines (all other students that work or research for their master’s in the same lab as me). I always have to remember to grab aqua sin gas because carbonated water is more popular than regular water here! I’ve made the mistake many times absentmindedly grabbing bubbly water. The currency here is Uruguayan pesos! It’s about 30 pesos to 1 USD.
Also during this time, I update my projects in our computer database. Everytime I run a PCR, I have to log which DNA samples I used and which primers. I also plan for my next projects. I have to make sure I have all the different ingredients.
Afternoons in the lab: Then, I start preparing another set of samples that I had PCR’d previously to be ran through a gel electrophoresis. This shows us whether the primers worked or not. Now, I take the DNA from the tiny test tubes and mix it with a blue buffer Preparation takes around 45 minutes. Then I put it in the gel. I run the gel for 1.75 hours, it’s slightly magic but the gel is hooked up to electrodes that create an electric current that pull the DNA a certain amount which shows the length of the DNA. I take the gel out and have to stain so that you can see the DNA in the pictures. I stain it in a scary substance that you can’t touch and have to wear two pairs of gloves around for 5 minutes, then I wash it in water for 15 minutes, then I take pictures under a UV light that I can’t look at directly.
Then, I have to go analyze these photos to check if their was amplification. I usually meet with my project supervisor for help with this because sometimes it’s hard to tell.
Everyday, I try to do one PCR and two gels or two PCRs and one gel. That’s about all I have time for because we are limited on machines and the machines take quite a bit of time.
Around 6:00 – 7:30pm: I usually end up leaving the lab somewhere in this time frame. Some days are later and some days are earlier. I have the same routine to get back home. I always have to be careful on my walk because for an extreme klutz like me, these sidewalks are dangerous! They tend to be uneven and missing segments or tiles at times and there’s plenty of spots where tree roots have uplifted parts. It can be an obstacle course.
6:30 – 8:00pm: Arrive home. It’s already dark out (it’s winter here).
8:00pm till bedtime: So I usually read my book, write my blogs, or work on my computer job for Iowa State (I work for an agriculture engineering/ agronomy lab that creates a real time soil erosion estimator. I work on ArcGIS and its awesome that I’m able to do this while being abroad). I also eat dinner, sometimes with my host/roommate, Leticia, who is an awesome cook or sometimes I just grab something simple like a sandwich and chips at the nearby store.
That’s an average weekday here! I go to work, eat meals, and hang out. My weekends tend to be the exciting part filled with exploring. Only one week left here, I’ll be home June 26th. Crazy how time flies (as per usual). I’ve learned an immense amount about genetics, lab protocol and techniques, and Uruguayan culture. I’ve also learned how frustrating research is when it doesn’t work and how satisfying it is when it does! I’ll be sure to do a review of my time here as my last blog.