Last year Wouter Derks went to France for his graduate assignment. At l’Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA) he has conducted fundamental research into the immune system of zebrafish.
“To be precise, I was in Jouy and Josas, in the suburbs of Paris, actually pretty close to the famous chateau of Versailles. During my time in Paris, I carried out research on chemokines (signalling substances of the immune system) in zebrafish. Zebrafish are used as a model organism in biological research. Their complete genome has been mapped and the embryos are transparent. Which means that, using a microscope, all the individual cells of the immune system can easily been counted. My research was carried out at INRA, one of the largest life science research institutes in France, with different facilities spread across the entire country.
I have cloned the genes of 6 different chemokines, and subsequently put these in an expression vector. One can then produce the chemokines in different cell lineages. This way, the chemokines can be used for tests, for example by injecting them into a zebrafish embryo and looking which cells move towards the chemokines. I didn’t have enough time to carry out the second part myself, but other people are still working on it. I have also analysed the chemokines further by observing when they are expressed and in which tissue, performing an analysis of the promoter, etc.
Next to carrying out interesting research, my trip was a great opportunity to improve my knowledge of the French language and French culture. And I certainly have come to appreciate it.”