Laura Grunenkovaite '22

Sengupta Lab, Department of Biology
Brandeis University

Laura Grunenkovaite

Fellow Reflection: Conducting Research During a Pandemic

Dear Bauer Foundation,

My name is Laura Grunenkovaite and I would like to thank you for awarding me the Bauer Fellowship as well as giving me the opportunity to conduct my research on the question of how does cilia morphology affect the localization of sensory signaling proteins in C. elegans?

Throughout the summer, one of the initial challenges that I had faced due to COVID-19 was that undergrad students were not allowed to conduct research on campus until the end of June. However, my mentor was able to construct a plan that focused on the analysis of data in order for me to conduct research remotely. Increased focus on the analysis of data, has allowed me to better understand my results as they relate to previous research done by other labs. Research began to prove to be less challenging as I was allowed to slowly return to the lab.

However, due to COVID-19, my nieces’ daycares were closed until the end of July; thus, I spent most of my free time taking care of my nieces while teaching them about my research project and presenting my data to them. Conducting most of my research remotely has allowed me to work whenever I can; therefore, my time management skills have improved. I have learned to put my nieces to sleep by reading journal articles to them and work on my research project during naptimes, evenings and the weekends. Despite the challenges that we have endured due to COVID, I have been able to make ample progress and I am very excited to continue the project well into the academic year and present it to everyone in April.

Before Brandeis entered Phase 1b and began allowing undergraduate students to return to their respective labs on June 22nd, my mentor designed a plan in order for me to conduct research remotely and thus I was able to begin my project in mid-May. Since conducting research remotely, I have focused on the analysis of data and have learned how to use programs FIJI/ImageJ and GraphPad/Prism in order to analyze cilia morphology and intraflagellar transport (IFT). Specifically, I have compared the cilia length in ASH neurons of wild type animals and the cilia length in ASH neurons of temperature sensitive (ts) IFT mutants. I have found that after a 1-hour shift to 27°C, temperature sensitive intraflagellar transport mutants have severe and acute cilia truncation as opposed to wild-type animals, ts mutants at 20°C, and wild type animals at 27°C. Also, I have learned how to measure and analyze the particle velocity for intraflagellar transport of ASH and AWA neurons in wild type animals and temperature sensitive intraflagellar transport mutants. From analyzing data, I found that a 1- hour shift of wild type and temperature sensitive intraflagellar transport mutant animals to 27°C is not enough to stop IFT completely in ASH cilia, but at 30°C, IFT halts in ASH and AWA cilia. Lastly from data analysis, I found that in wild type animals, a G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) – ODR-10, which is responsible for binding to the odorant diacetyl, localizes throughout the cilium; however, in osm-6 IFT mutants with chronically truncated cilia, it localizes to the tip of the cilium. The data analysis that I have performed so far is imperative for putting together the pieces of the story for my poster in April. In the future I will examine the localization of ODR-10 and other signaling proteins in additional IFT mutants (including the ts IFT mutant I have characterized above).

Besides data analysis, I have been reading and presenting numerous journal articles to my mentor in order to expand my theoretical understanding of the research I am conducting. This has been vital to my understanding of the signal transduction pathway in the sensory neurons and cilia of C. elegans as it relates to the localization of signaling proteins such ODR-10. Also, I have been planning crosses, designing plasmids and analyzing sequencing results in order to assess the success and accuracy of the crosses and the plasmids designed. Lastly, I have been writing up and editing experimental protocols which I will be able to use to perform experiments fast and efficiently once I integrate further into the lab.

Finally, once I was allowed to return to the lab starting June 22nd, I have been coming in on a regular basis to learn microinjection in C. elegans. So far, I have been able to successfully microinject a split GFP plasmid into animals with the other half of the GFP inserted into the odr-10 gene. I was able to obtain transformants and once I am able to obtain a line, my mentor will image these animals and I will analyze the localization of the ODR-10 GPCR at endogenous levels (rather than the over-expression I examined previously).

Overall, I hope you will find this summary to be indicative of the great progress I have made this summer towards preparing for my presentation in April. Thank you for your time!

Giving Back

Dear Bauer Foundation,

Although this summer was challenging for us all due to COVID-19, I thought it to be imperative that I give back to the community in order to alleviate some of the challenges that the community members may have been facing. Thus, in addition to working on my fellowship, babysitting and teaching my nieces about my project, I also participated in a COVID supply drive organized by the Waltham Community Day Center.

When I first arrived to set up the supply drive, I could not believe how much the Waltham community members had donated to their neighbors in need. We had to organize hundreds of bags of hygiene products, medical supplies, clothes, books and even some donated bicycles, cribs, and strollers that some families may not be able to afford during these difficult times. I teared up due to the sheer amount of supplies that we received because that demonstrated to me that the Waltham community truly cares about its neighbors and that they will always help those in need. Not only did we receive a lot of supplies and volunteers, but we also had a few hundred people that all had masks and were standing six feet apart, patiently waiting for us to organize and give out the essential supplies. Volunteers and community members wearing masks and standing six feet apart demonstrated to me how we can all unite for a common cause and in this way bring our community closer together while social distancing with each other. I was distributing gloves and listening to people’s stories. One thing that everyone had in common was loss of income due to COVID-19 and our supply drive was going to help to alleviate some of the costs. Overall, what it meant to me to be able to give back is that I could help the Waltham community members obtain the supplies that they otherwise may not be able to get due to COVID-19 and our community can all unite in the times of hardship.

I hope you enjoy this summary of my giving back initiative this summer. Thank you for your time.