From Classroom to Lab: My Hands-On Experience in Aquaculture Research

With the last semester of my bachelor’s degree in biology came a unique opportunity to experience hands-on research through the BIO299 course. My project was to delve into the realm of RNA interference and Salmon lice, specifically targeting an immune-suppressive protein expressed by the labial gland of both sea louse (Caligus elongatus) and salmon louse (Lepeophtheirus salmonis).

Caligus elongatus in a copepodid stage, trapped in small structure that looks a little like a champagne glass.

The aim was to investigate the impact on infection success and louse loss when we downregulated this protein. Previous experiments had shown that the knockdown of LGP3 protein led to an increased loss of sea louse. Our task? To figure out exactly when in the louse’s development this occurred. Was it during the copepodid stage, just when the louse sets down the frontal filament? Or perhaps after it had attached to the fish with the filament and gone through the molting process to a chalimus? These were the questions that kept me engaged in the repetitive, yet crucial work of the experiment.       

Part of my daily routine involved switching out filters and counting every louse using a microscope. I also spent time carefully scanning fish, which was quite challenging when they are as small as they are. Alongside this, I had a foray into molecular biology, where I learned and practiced cleaning RNA and conducting qPCR analysis. These were activities were valuable learning experiences for me and i felt like I got a lot of relevant experience, even though the work could feel repetetive at times

While the repetition was sometimes a test of patience, the clear, concrete goal of our work provided a consistent sense of purpose. Ultimately, our findings could contribute to the development of a vaccine for salmon louse, offering a significant benefit to both the aquaculture industry and the health of farmed and wild salmon populations.

But the BIO299 experience wasn’t just about the nitty-gritty of lab work and louse. It was also about working within a team of dedicated researchers who were as generous with their knowledge as they were patient with my questions. They made me feel like I belonged in the lab, and that I was an important part of the project, which certainly made those days of repetitive work much more rewarding.   

Here i am adding the dsRNA intro the water were we kept the louse. This is how we infected them with the RNA.

Looking through a microscope at the Nauplius ll stage of Caligus elongatus. You can se the exuviae from in the middle, it was left behind after molting.

So, was the experience everything I expected it to be? Not exactly, the results were not what we had hoped for, but in research, this too is an outcome, steering us towards new possibilities. In the end, I would recommend BIO299 to anyone seeking to truly experience the world of research. It provides you with the opportunity to learn, to grow, and to discover that in science, even the smallest tasks can contribute to solving some of the industry’s biggest challenges.


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