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March 12, 2020

Protozoan Intestinal Parasite Giardia

This semester, I began work in Dr. Steven Singer’s lab, studying the protozoan intestinal parasite giardia. While the learning curve has been steep as a result of the technical skills and background knowledge necessary for conducting wet research, I am tremendously grateful that I have been able to acquire these skills and acclimate to the lab, while also maintaining a larger perspective through the Global Health Initiative Fellowship Program.

One of the foundational principles in the lab is that giardia predominantly infects individuals without access to proper sanitation and can have a slew of adverse effects, particularly on children, such as growth stunting. There is an intrinsic tie between the lab’s research and global health, and the fellowship’s emphases on global health and policy have provided an important perspective to the work. 

I am working with a brilliant graduate student, Heriberto “Eddie” de Leon, to construct DNA plasmids as a current project. We are working to assemble circular molecules of DNA, called plasmids, from several linear strands of genes; we hope to transform these plasmids into other cell cultures, including cell lines of giardia. Earlier in the semester, we assembled a Cas9 plasmid. This name may sound familiar from recent articles about CRISPR technology, which “knocks out” certain areas from the genome of a cell, located in the nucleus. We can use the Cas9 plasmid to perform a variation on the CRISPR knock-out technology which is called “knocking down” genes; this approach regulates genes to prevent their expression rather than cutting them out completely. This process allows for genetic regulation in giardia, which have multiple nuclei and therefore more than one set of DNA per parasite, making traditional CRISPR knock-downs unreliable and inefficient. Having the opportunity to genetically manipulate the parasite will allow us to learn more about its mechanisms. The plasmid we are working on currently is called the CWP plasmid, into which we plan to insert a firefly luciferase gene. This gene codes for a light-producing protein, which we can use for bioluminescent imaging: putting this plasmid into giardia cells which we then use to infect mice will allow us to track the progression and location of the infection in the mice in vivo. 

Both of these projects are specific and small-scale, but are foundational to optimizing further research into the public health issue of giardiasis. Although I was nervous to undertake this unfamiliar and serious endeavor, the fellowship has been an incredible opportunity to delve into the technicalities of lab research and the perspective to understand how this research impacts health worldwide. I am thrilled to continue work in this lab, which harnesses the power of science, technology, and innovation to answer questions and facilitate the treatment of individuals, especially children, suffering from giardia infection.

Eleanor Miskovsky is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences studying biology and pursuing the pre-medical concentration. She is currently a Global Health Initiative fellow working in a molecular microbiology lab.