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In the second of our series of blogs by students who spent a week of their summer holiday working with scientists in the WIMM, Olivia and Zoe Brandon from Seven Oaks School in Kent explain what they got up to in the lab, and how this has influenced their perception of scientific research.

There’s a limit to how exciting a Biology textbook can be at 4 o’clock on a Monday afternoon. The wonders of quadrat sampling, the precautionary principle, and transport in angiospermophytes have thus far eluded us.

This summer we were lucky enough to see science from a completely new angle. Upon arrival at the WIMM we were immediately whisked away for blood sampling – and so began a truly inspiring week.

The first stage of the process was to run our samples through a blood counting machine – this was followed by some intense analysis of which of us (we’re twins) was immunologically superior. We were then moved swiftly on to the main lab and introduced to everyone working there, all of whom were incredibly warm and welcoming. We were told not to be shy and to ask any questions that cropped up. We were shown how to isolate our white blood cells using a centrifuge, and then we dissolved the cell membranes using a surfactant so that we could get at the DNA inside, purifying the sample into a pellet using ethanol precipitation.

The next day we got to put into practice what we had learned about DNA and genetics in our Biology course at school. We were shown how to amplify our DNA using PCR, which we left overnight and returned to the following morning. We were able to separate out the DNA fragments using gel electrophoresis, which worked its magic over a long coffee break.

Getting to insert our own DNA into the plasmids of the bacteria E. coli was both remarkable and slightly unnerving. On our final day at the WIMM we got to see the latest DNA sequencing technologies in action and went home with photos of our DNA profiles (useful if we are ever placed at the scene of a crime…)

We are so grateful for the opportunity that the WIMM provided us with – it was an unforgettable experience that has transformed our views of scientific research. We are now covering PCR and gel electrophoresis in Biology, and (thankfully) are ahead of the game.

Post edited by Bryony Graham.