Hello! My name is Charles Golightly. I’m an undergraduate intern here in the CRUSTOMICS Lab. I’ve been
working here since November, 2015. For anyone contemplating the benefits of volunteering in a research lab, I can only say that I’ve learned things here that I would never have been able to learn anywhere else. The hands-on experience is invaluable for anyone pursuing a research-focused career.
So what exactly have I done? When I first started, I knew very little about genetics lab work. I was pretty much a blank slate, having only taken genetics and invertebrate zoology lecture courses here at FIU. My mentor, Jorge, started me on simple extraction techniques, where I learned the process of digesting tissues to isolate its DNA. I learned how to amplify target gene sequences using PCR methods, and how to visualize and interpret them using electrophoresis gels.
After learning these basics, I began work on the DEEPEND project. Initially the team was small, and the few of us working on it were responsible for the entire barcoding aspect of the project. With over 90 species, the task was daunting, but we accomplished a lot before the team was expanded. After we expanded the team, the species were divided between everyone. My group of species were the amphipods.
I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with amphipods in my time here. Amphipods are very interesting creatures, with a wide array of morphologies ranging from the real-life creature that was the inspiration of the “Alien” movies, to armored tanks that curl up into impenetrable spheres of calcium-carbonate shell, to creatures whose entire head is a giant eye. As diverse as they are morphologically, they are also as diverse genetically. This makes working with them in a genetics lab very difficult. Most of them aren’t studied very well, which leads to a lack of research material to refer to. Much of what we’re doing here is done completely by the seat of our pants. To make matters worse, Amphipods’ wide diversity means that working with one species usually doesn’t mean you know how to work with the next species. There’s a lot of trial and error involved, but for all the work and effort (and failed PCRs) that goes into working with them, I still find them fascinating.
I was also given the opportunity to participate in a research cruise for the “Sight Beyond Eyes” project with Heather, Jorge, and Laura. We travelled into the Florida Straits to collect pelagic decapod crustaceans to study their bioluminescence, and how they detect it themselves. It was loads of fun! If you’re interested in finding out a little bit more about it, you can check out the series of blogs we did for the cruise, here on HBGLab website.
As for what’s to come, it’s difficult to say. I have three more semesters as an undergrad here at FIU, and I certainly hope to continue working in the lab, learning new things and gaining invaluable experience. This next year should be a fun one, though. I’ve got a few research cruises lined up: One into the Gulf of Mexico as part of a class taught by Heather, and hopefully one into the Arctic as part of a project to conduct research on the evermore accessible Northwest Passage.
I’d like to wrap this up by thanking Heather and my mentor, Jorge, for everything they’ve done to provide me with these opportunities and learning experiences, and everyone else in the lab who makes coming into work an enjoyable part of my day. Finally, I’d like to give special thanks to my step-father, Alfonso Zamora. Without his support (and I’ve needed lots of it), none of this would be possible. I really appreciate what you’ve done for me, Fons. Thanks for everything.
Special thanks to Dante Fenolio for the amphipod images.