This summer as a FUTI student in the UTRIP program, I had the pleasure of working in Professor Mikiko Siomi’s new lab in the Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry department at UTokyo University. Professor Siomi’s lab focuses on piRNA pathways of gene silencing in Drosophila melanogaster, the fruit fly. Like most researchers in the lab, I had the opportunity to work with Drosophila ovarian somatic cells (OSC) to study the effects of piRNA expression on various protein expression levels in vivo.
My primary project involved studying protein levels via a Luciferase assay. In this assay, we transfected plasmids containing firefly and Renilla (sea pansy) Luciferase-encoding genes into Drosophila OSC along with varying 3’ Untranslated Regions (3’ UTRs) and piRNA sequences. By knocking out the protein Yb involved in the piRNA silencing pathway, we were able to study its effects on protein levels by monitoring the brightness of luciferase reactions conducted by the cells. Though we did not obtain the data we expected given our hypothesis, we started an important step in understanding the mechanism of piRNA silencing, and I had the opportunity to try various new techniques.
My lab was incredibly accommodating and friendly, treating me to meals, small snacks, and – my favorite – takoyaki parties. With my luck, I happened upon the wasabi-spiked takoyaki twice in a row in takoyaki Russian roulette. The UTRIP staff and other interns were great people to get to know, and I am glad I had the opportunity to spend time with them and learn about their different life experiences.
Outside of lab, I had a wonderful time exploring an incredibly different culture and one of the biggest cities I have ever seen. I had the chance to visit many strange shops in Akihabara and Harajuku, the Meiji Shrine, the amazing Ueno Zoo, and several scenes of incredible Tokyo nightlife. It was definitely exhausting keeping up the pace with such an upbeat city, but it was also a huge refresher from the relatively small and quiet Yale campus I am used to.
I had a chance to venture out of Tokyo as well. UTRIP took us to see Mt. Fuji and the surrounding forest, a truly majestic experience. Since Mt. Fuji itself was too far away for a personal trip, I am glad I took a trip with some other interns to hike Mt. Takao and see its Buddhist shrines. I also saw the huge Buddha in Kamakura and had a relaxing time on the nearby beach. Perhaps my favorite out-of-Tokyo excursion was to the onsen in Odaiba. This was a huge culture shock at first, but it was one of the most rejuvenating experiences of my life.
I was struck by the incredible hospitality of everyone in Japan. Tokyo is rapidly adjusting to a globalizing world, and I found myself often forgiven for not knowing every custom and helped out when I was lost. I am glad I got to practice some Japanese, but it seemed unnecessary, which was a huge relief. Perhaps most surprising was the food. I am an incredibly picky eater, sadly, but I absolutely fell in love with most Japanese dishes. I would love to come back to Japan some day.
Thank you for a wonderful experience, FUTI, UTokyo, and UTRIP.