Around March this year GTAC came to my school in regional Victoria to demonstrate a variety of genetic procedures. I was fascinated by the technology and science and when I heard that they offered work experience I promptly signed up and headed down to Melbourne
On my first day of work I was a bit nervous about being in a new place and being away from home. However as soon as I arrived my worries were put ease as I met the friendly staff, and other students. We were given a tour of GTAC, and briefed on safety in case of an emergency. Our first task was on the body’s immune system. We had to defend the body by playing the immunology game, which can be found here: https://www.gtac.edu.au/gtac-immunology-game/. By playing the game we learnt about how the immune system works and how our body defends itself from harmful pathogens.
With our virtual bodies rid of disease, we moved on to the lab where we began to make the Agar solution for our Petri dishes to grow bacteria in. We made 1% Agar solution, from Tryptone, Agar, Sodium and Yeast Extract. We measured out all the ingredients using the balance and gave the solution a quick mix. We then finished off the solution in the autoclave to ensure that the mixture was sterile.
After our lunch break we had a look at some slides under the microscope of organisms from a local pond. I could not believe to see such tiny organisms moving around in the water. It really made me respect just how intricate and precious single cell organisms are.
On Tuesday we began our swab tests. We took the Agar solution out of the autoclave and poured the solution into the petri dishes. We used a sterile hood and wiped everything with 80% ethanol to ensure everything was sterile. Once the plates had set we went for a walk around the building to look for surfaces to test for bacteria. I swabbed my phone, the stairwell hand rail and a keyboard. We then placed the plates into the incubator for two days to allow the bacteria grow.
After a quick snack break and washing our hands of course, we headed across the road for a tour of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI). We were first shown a timeline of all of the WEHI’S scientific achievements ranging from snake venom antidote to improvements to immune disorders. It’s amazing to think that the work being done in this one building can benefit so many people all around the world. Next a researcher showed us a PowerPoint about his work to cure Diabetes type II. He then showed us around his lab and the equipment that he used. I could not believe the sheer size of the labs and the equipment that was being used. Elisa, another work experience student, and I were fascinated by the pipette boy, a machine being used to transfer and measures liquids from one container to another.
After the tour was over we walked back to GTAC and were shown how to correctly handle and use the microscopes. We then took a look at some more organisms from another pond, as well as flower and leaf specimens.
On Wednesday we had the opportunity to sit in on and experience a year 12 genetics program. We learnt about meiosis, inheritance and non-disjunction during meiosis as well as the effect it could have on the offspring. We looked at a genetic disorder called PKU or Phenylketonuria.
The disorder occurs when the enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase (PAH) is unable to convert phenylalanine to tyrosine. The disorder affects 1 in every 11,000 new born babies. Babies with the disorder experience developmental problems and seizers. We learnt about how it effects the body and how people with the disorder can minimise the symptoms.
We learnt how to perform a genetic test to test for the disorder in unborn babies. We used samples of DNA, along with restriction enzymes (DNA scissors) to splice the DNA, and then placed the samples in a Gel and performed gel electrophoresis to determine if the baby had the disorder.
On Thursday morning Chris showed us the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. It's a strange experience to put the headset on and be taken from an Office to a French Style villa. It's gets even weirder when you can hear someone talking and you go to look at them but they’re not there. We then got to use the electron microscope to look at flowers, insects, more pond life and hair at very high magnification. Maria, another work experience student, was horrified to see just how many split ends were on her hair. I could not believe the detail that the electron microscope could produce. It is simply amazing to see the detail a moth’s eye has at x5000. We were fortunate enough to be able to sit in on a public hearing about education and politics with politicians from all over Australia and students from University High. We also saw the results from our swab test. I was proud to see that my phone was relatively clean with only 6 spots of bacteria, however the keyboard from the lab was a horror show of perhaps a thousand spots of bacteria and fungus. We wrapped up the petri dishes in Para Film to seal off the bacteria. Elisa was fascinated by Para film and now hopes to purchase 38m of it online.
On Friday we started by finishing off writing our blog posts. By far the most impressive part of the day was using the light and florescence microscope. The colours the microscope could produce were amazing, however we had to look quickly because otherwise the florescence light would quench all the colour out of the dye making the slide dark forever. We all agreed that it was sad the see the beautiful images fade in front of our eyes never to be seen again. We also had the opportunity be stars in some promotional material being produced for the Education Department of Victoria. We applied all of our acting skills as we demonstrated the use of the electron microscope, as well as the light and florescence microscope. Elisa also finally got to the use the pipette boy as well. In the afternoon we finished off our blogs and everyone from GTAC met in the conference room to enjoy some cake to celebrate the week. On behalf of the work experience students I presented GTAC with a card thanking GTAC for all the time and effort they put in to making our week as fun and as memorable as it was.
During my week at GTAC I learnt so many amazing things and definitely enjoyed my time there. The staff are all amazing and helpful at answering any questions you have about their work. I would like to thank all of them for making my week fun, insightful and educational.
I cannot recommend work experience at GTAC enough to any student interested in science.