Research on the Prairies – Kaitlin Dailey and DNA

When I was younger, both of my parents were educators. My mom taught mathematics, and my dad taught the sciences for a small rural Kansas school district. Since our farm raised livestock (mostly for 4-H), I would observe what a breeding pair’s offspring looked like. I caught the DNA bug my sophomore year of high school when I was allowed to work ahead in a college genetics textbook in biology. One could say, with the background I have, I was born to be a geneticist. It helps that I absolutely adore being in the lab.

My name is Kaitlin M. Dailey, and I will be a senior Biology major, Chemistry minor pursuing my B.S. at North Park University in Chicago, IL. This is the second summer I have spent in the Biochemistry Department at NDSU. I have had the honor and delight of enriching myself under the guidance of the Haring Lab of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Genetics led by Dr. Stuart Haring.

Our lab focuses on a specific eukaryotic protein complex called Replication Protein A (RPA). This complex functions in DNA replication, repair, recombination, regulation of the cell cycle, and even regulation of gene expression. RPA is important for two main reasons. First, without the complex the cell dies. Second, if DNA damage is not repaired correctly, it leads to mutations within the genome. These mutations have the potential to cause diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Trisomy 21 (Down’s Syndrome).  As a lab, we have a diverse range of projects studying how RPA completes these functions in all eukaryotic cells, including human cells.

I have three main projects for this summer. First, I am continuing an experiment that I began last summer. We have mutated the DNA that encodes the RPA complex in many different ways, resulting in different mutations of the protein itself. I am going to take these mutations and test how they react to DNA damage during the cell cycle. Cells that proceed through the cell cycle with DNA damage and continue reproducing have a very high potential to cause disease, especially cancer. My second project works with mating type switching of yeast. We work primarily with Saccharomyces cervissiae, which when it is in haploid spores (half the normal DNA content, much like in human sperm and egg) has two genders: A and α. However, one can switch the gender by inducing a recombination event. We know that RPA is involved in recombination, so I am going to look closer and see if any of our mutations have different effects on the frequency of the sex-change from A to α or α to A. Even though we work with yeast, out work is still pertinent to humans because most of the proteins are conserved through all eukaryotic cells, and the processes are generally very similar. The third project is looking at how RPA functions in meiosis with other proteins. To do this I am going to use materials with Dr. Scott Keeney of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Within the first three weeks of being here, I have begun my second project dealing with mating-type switching in yeast, contacted Dr. Keeney for his materials, and set up for the cell cycle analysis experiment. So far I have induced the recombination event and counted colonies to record cell viability for mating type switching. Unfortunately, there have been a few hiccups with this experiment. We may need to reformat the protocol and try again, or come up with a new protocol all together. This project has been challenging because of the shear number of samples I am juggling. Thank goodness Fargo has such good country radio stations so I can dance and sing as I maintain my samples.

This experience has been incredible, to say the least. I love Fargo. Well, at least summer Fargo, I’ve never been here in the winter. It’s such a beautiful and welcoming place. Aside from the research, I have been enjoying roaming this city. Within the limits it has most of the opportunities and reasons I left the farm to go to school in the city, but it still has the wholesome, homegrown, small-town feel. Last year, I was at JCPenny’s trying to pick out a business suit for our big poster presentation at the end of the summer. I didn’t know what I should go for, but this sweet lady helped me pick the right fit. The people who ring you up at stores take the time to ask about your day and really mean it. Out of the three places I’ve spent time the last two years, I’ve spent the least in Fargo. Yet, it seems like home to me. I feel so privileged to have met everyone and to have experienced not just the Haring Lab and NDSU, but the city of Fargo as well.

I plan on using these experiences to build a career within the scientific community. It is my current intention to enroll in graduate school, possibly at NDSU, and earn a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Genetics. With this Ph.D. I would like to become a professor at an institution where I could also run a lab of my own. North Park University, unfortunately, is too small to have facilities to conduct research such as what I carry out on a daily basis at NDSU. Without this REU experience, I would not have realized that graduate school is a better fit for my future than the medical school track I was on the first two years at North Park. Nor would I have gained such valuable knowledge in lab techniques, protocols, and molecular processes. Needless to say, I have found my calling in life and plan to follow it to my best ability. Perhaps I’ll be back in Fargo next fall, who knows?

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