Genetic Modifications, Memories and the Smell of Mice

Have you ever had something on your mind and suddenly forgot what it was? The way our brains function, and sometimes don’t, is fascinating. During my project I have been working with genetically modified mice and looking at the ways memories are coded in the brain. Half of the mice had a special gene inserted which resulted in a termination of the function of the layer II of lateral entorhinal cortex (LEC), one of two major inputs to the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is crucial for episodic memory. The aim of my experiment was to examine the role of layer II of LEC in episodic memory formation.

In combination with the lab work, Laidlaw events and action learning sets, the first weeks of my internship passed very quickly. At the beginning, I was handling mice and habituating them to a box in which the testing took place in the following weeks. This was happening in a clean unit where people need to have a special access or be on good terms with lab technicians to let them in. I had to wear overalls on top of my clothes and also shoe covers. Even though the clothing prevents contaminating the unit, it does not protect researchers from acquiring animal smells. If you guessed that I started smelling like a mouse, you were right (subsequent apology to the people who sat near me at networking lunches).

Testing consisted of four behavioural tasks, each running for a single week. These tasks involved combinations of objects, places and contexts that were presented to the mice. Every trial was recorded on a video and I subsequently measured how much each mice was exploring the objects in particular settings. It was hypothesized that the exploration times in relation to novel and familiar configurations of objects, places and contexts would differ between control and experimental mice. This part of my internship was rather lengthy and initially it was difficult for me to estimate how much time it would take. It has taught me the lesson that in science everything lasts much longer than one initially estimates. The internship has given me invaluable experience to successfully designing my future research projects.

Experimental setup: A mouse is presented with new and familiar objects.

Indeed, the Laidlaw internship programme has confirmed me in my decision to pursue research in the future. I am definitely going to apply for a PhD in neuroscience and I believe that the experience I gained by participating in this programme will help me to secure a good place. I have learned a lot during my internship not only about the brain but also about leadership. I am now designing my poster and look forward to presenting my findings at the poster event and the Northern hub conference. I am very grateful to Lord Laidlaw for this amazing opportunity. I would also like to thank Cat and Eilidh from CAPOD who have been organising for us a number of exciting events. It has been a blast!

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