I did my major thesis of Medical Biotechnology at C. elegans group in Nematology. When I first interviewed for my major thesis, I was looking for a disease related project. Prof. Jan Kammenga immediately fitted me into a very attractive project which was related to Parkinson’s Disease. Under the supervision of Katharina Jovic, I looked at the effect of natural genetic variation on heat stress resistance and healthspan using the Caenorhabditis elegans as a model organism of Parkinson’s Disease.
Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by the toxic accumulation of α-synuclein protein during aging. While some people are more susceptible to develop Parkinson’s Disease, others do not show any symptoms even though they carry the disease causing mutation. This difference in susceptibility is partly due to the genetic variation.
The nematode, C. elegans, is extensively used as a model organism to do research about natural variation and human diseases including Parkinson’s Disease. However, there is no α-synuclein gene in C. elegans. Therefor, I worked with ‘transgenic C. elegans’ which were previously generated by inserting the human α-synuclein into their genome.
Basically, I looked at how the disease phenotype was shaped among different genetic backgrounds. In total I used 10 genetically different strains, half of them expressing α-synuclein and other half lacking α-synuclein. I compared the heat stress resistances and movement speed of trangenic C. elegans among each other and with their corrensponding strains lacking α-synuclein.
Towards the end of my research, I ended up with a large amount of data. With the help of my supervisor, I was able to analyze the big pile of data in a short time using R, the statistical programming language. By this way, I had a quick entrance into ‘R’ and learned some useful programming skills that will also be helpful in the future.
Besides these, Nematology has a very peaceful environment for doing research. You are given the oppurtunity to work independently on your own topic. Although you are independent, everyone is always willing to help whenever you encounter with problems. Looking back, I am glad that I did my major thesis here. I developed my scientific thinking ability and gained a lot of new skills. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a different challenge and experience.