Undergraduate summer school project research contributes to publication

Published on 1 April 2021

In the summer of 2019, undergraduate student Fergus Buchanan undertook a lab project with Dr Alan Prescott.

On this page

The research undertaken has been published in Frontiers in Immunology as part of a collaboration with the group of Diego Gomez-Nicola in Southampton. The Pathological Society funded summer school project allowed Fergus to gain confocal and electron microscopy experience from one of the School’s foremost experts over a 12 week period.

Fergus carried out work included in figure 3 of the publication. This involved quantifying the number of dendritic cells (pictured left) in the ear skin of the transgenic mice from images captured using fluorescent microscopy. The samples had to be prepared, imaged and then the cells were counted automatically using Volocity software and finally manually checked.

“I’m quite blown away by having experiments that I did published, it was a wonderful surprise. I knew at the time that I was contributing to something that might end up published but to be honest I did not think my small contribution really warranted being listed among the authors. It really felt like the first step towards a proper scientific career,” said Fergus.

In addition to the confocal microscope experiments, Fergus also carried out some transmission electron microscope (TEM) experiments which was his main interest in being in the lab. The first step was to learn the often-fiddly process of preparing the samples for imaging. This involved cutting very thin sections of tissue (~70 nanometres thick), mounting and staining them. “Once these samples were prepared, I was allowed to use the TEM to examine them which for me was the highlight of my time in the lab. I’ve been interested in electron microscopy for years and to finally learn how to use one (and then do so successfully) was thrilling. I was mainly looking at sections of mouse tissue (kidney, heart - pictured - and liver) to try and find mitophagosomes, which are vesicles that envelop and break down damaged or worn-out mitochondria,” Fergus explained.

Fergus explained how he found the overall experience of undertaking a summer project, “It was a significant departure from anything I’d been taught in a practical lab and it was very satisfying to go from needing frequent help and guidance at the beginning of my project, to working largely unsupervised on the EM for hours at a time. I felt like I was spending my summer doing something really valuable for my career as I learned techniques which would not otherwise be taught on my course.”

‘Inhibition of IL-34 Unveils Tissue-Selectivity and Is Sufficient to Reduce Microglial Proliferation in a Model of Chronic Neurodegeneration’ is available to read now in Frontiers in Immunology.