A Summer With “Team N”

by Grace Kuffner

Gryllus bimaculatus: two-spotted cricket

This summer, I worked in Dr. Shinji Nagata’s laboratory (or as the lab members call themselves, “Team N”) at the University of Tokyo Kashiwa campus. It was truly an unforgettable experience, and I learned so much about various scientific ideas and techniques, as well as Japanese language and culture. This internship would have been impossible were it not for the extremely generous scholarship I received from Friends of UTokyo, Inc.

Holding a two-spotted cricket

In terms of biology, I synthesized and injected a novel cricket signaling protein, truncated neuropeptide F. I also performed RNA interference to silence the expression of the neuropeptide F receptor. To measure the effects of these two procedures, I quantified the crickets’ eating through their fecal pellets, and measured the carbohydrate and lipid levels in their hemolymph. I had little to no experience in all of these techniques, but members of Team N took turns patiently and thoroughly explaining them to me. Additionally, I pursued a self-driven project in fecal microbiota transplant, which is where gut bacteria from a healthy individual is administered orally or anally to a sick individual. It’s been performed in various mammalian species, including humans, but never in insects. I am still in the process of gathering data at the time of this report submission, but hopefully I will see some results. Regardless, this was the first time I’ve ever performed self-directed research, and it is a challenging but enormously rewarding experience. This has inspired me to try my hardest to design and carry out a self-directed project at my laboratory in my home institution, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Injecting a cricket with my peptide

This summer, I also had the opportunity to expand my knowledge of Japanese language and culture. Japan is not entirely new to me, as I am half Japanese, and have family living in and around the Tokyo area. However, I have never had a job in Japan, so this was a very new experience for me. I learned many new technical and biology-related words: enough to be able to give my final presentation to my lab entirely in Japanese. Additionally, I became familiar with the Japanese diligent work culture, constructed around the scaffolding of a hierarchy based on age and experience. Although it is somewhat different from the atmosphere I am used to in American laboratories, I found it very comfortable and organized, and conducive to collaborative discussion and peer-to-peer teaching.

At Enoshima beach with coworkers

In summary, I am extremely grateful to UTSIP, the MIT-Japan program, and Friends of UTokyo, Inc. for their support of my amazing research experience. Additionally, I am thankful beyond words that Team N welcomed me in and taught me about crickets, biology, and Japanese life. This summer was truly unforgettable, and I will carry everything I’ve learned back to MIT and beyond.

Eating delicious sushi with the lab