L: Magnified view of embryonic sea anemones (Nematostella vectensis) from the lab of Katerina Ragkousi, assistant professor of biology. The normally colorless anemones are marked with a green fluorescent protein to track the dynamic behavior of a protein called actin. Actin has many important jobs in a cell, including establishing the cell’s shape.
R: SURF researcher Jin Jeon ’22 sits at the microinjection station where she painstakingly inserted tiny rings of DNA into sea anemone embryos. Jeon’s work will contribute to a Ragkousi lab publication on the role of the cytoskeleton during embryonic development.
If the tiny glass pipette slipped even a little, it could spell disaster for the sensitive embryo. It required a very steady hand—and weeks of advanced training and practice—for Jin Jeon ’22 to learn how to use the microinjection station that would alter the developing sea anemones. For most of the summer, Jeon’s research tasks in Professor Katerina Ragkousi’s molecular biology lab were invisible to the eye. It took an agonizing eight weeks to finish constructing the plasmids, or tiny rings of DNA, in host bacteria. Then came the tricky work of introducing the plasmids into the sea anemone embryos, each smaller than the head of a pin.
In nature, few sea anemone eggs survive to maturity. In the lab, Jeon knew that only one in five would make it through the microinjection procedure, and only some of those would successfully get fertilized and start to grow. “There was a time when I thought, ‘Oh, this is probably never gonna happen,’” says Jeon. “I struggled a lot.”
Finally, in the waning weeks of summer, Jeon reached her project goals and claimed her reward: a chance to use a confocal microscope to observe in real time how the injected embryos were developing. “That was extremely satisfying,” says Jeon. She credits both Professor Ragkousi and the lab’s research specialist, Alivia Price, with giving her the biggest gift of the SURF summer experience: “Perseverance!”