Making mutants

A summer spent in the lab

- July 17, 2007

Dal student Ava Vila with her cute mutant friend. (Pearce photo)

It sounds like an old-fashioned horror movie: an ambitious young student spending her summer making mutants within the recesses of a laboratory.

DonÕt worry, these arenÕt some grotesque Hollywood creations that Ava Vila is working on Ð her mutants exist only in test tubs and Petri dishes. However, that hasnÕt stopped her friends from giving her fearful looks when she tells them that sheÕs working with viruses all summer (her friends have nothing to worry about Ð sheÕs not studying any human strains).

Thanks to a summer research grant from NSERC, Ms. Vila has been working this summer in the laboratory of Dr. Roy Duncan, professor of microbiology & immunology at Dalhousie. This is her first time as a laboratory employee, an opportunity she welcomes as she prepares for her third year at Dalhousie.

ÒHere, you can learn so many techniques,” says Ms. Vila, who is working towards a double major in biochemistry and microbiology & immunology. ÒThis takes so many of the concepts we learn and applies them in a real-world context.”

Much of her work this summer is with graduate student Trina Racine, studying avian reoviruses to determine the translational method of their genome. These viruses, which infect birds and other creatures, cause the bodyÕs cells to fuse when they infect. ÒWeÕre making mutants of these viruses so that we can determine what methods they use to fuse cells together to determine how one gene can express three different proteins Ð an unheard of process,” Ms. Vila explains.

A scholarship student, Ms. Vila has nothing but good things to say about university life thus far. ÒI love it,” she says proudly. ÒItÕs so different from high school, being able to really dive into the things you enjoy. I love being around such interesting people.”

SheÕs hoping to return to lab work next summer, and says that the experience has helped her realize the value of medical research as she moves on in her scholarly pursuits. ÒI want to go to medical school, but I also want to make sure that I donÕt lose the research side of things,” she explains. ÒThatÕs definitely the direction I want to head in.”


All comments require a name and email address. You may also choose to log-in using your preferred social network or register with Disqus, the software we use for our commenting system. Join the conversation, but keep it clean, stay on the topic and be brief. Read comments policy.

comments powered by Disqus