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Summer Snapshot: Estela Sanchez '17 on Studying Impermeable Structures in Worm Eggs

Estela Sanchez '17

About Summer Research

To learn more about the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) and to read more entries in our "Summer Snapshot" series, visit our SURP website

This is one in a series looking in on the work and projects Pomona students are carrying out this summer.

Project summary:
Sara Olsen’s lab studies the different membranes that are involved in forming the eggshells for nematodes (basically a fancy word for “worms”). Our project studies one of the layers that’s embedded between the eggshell and the plasma membrane of nematode embryos. It’s called the permeability barrier and it is one of the most impermeable structures in the animal kingdom. It’s hypothesized that a very specialized sugar called ascarylose is used to make up the permeability barrier. The thing is, though, that not much is known about the ascarylose biosynthetic pathway in C. elegans, which is the type of nematode Sara Olsen’s lab studies. Our research contributes to further understanding the components of the ascarylose biosynthetic pathway, which could one day help identify candidates for drugs that destroy parasitic embryos. It’s really important because parasitic worms are often a major health problem in third-world countries.

What is your mentor like?
Sara Olson is so confident with everything that involves her research. I took Cell Biology with her this past spring and I thought that it would be a great experience to work in her lab. I also looked at her research and thought it might be pretty interesting, and it turned out to be something that I was really intrigued by. So I took the plunge and asked if I could join her lab, and I haven’t regretted it.

What is one thing about your research so far that you find particularly interesting?
So far we’ve just been working with bacteria called Y. pseudotuberculosis, which is the only other place ascarylose has been found besides in nematodes. It’s so ironic that I work in a worm lab but I actually haven’t worked on worms yet! It’s kind of funny.

Why are you doing summer research?
I started doing Neuroscience research last summer as a HAP student in the Carl Johnson lab, and I really like the environment of being on campus and working in a laboratory setting. It’s one thing to be exposed to science in the classroom, where you’re almost disconnected from it, but when you’re actually in a lab setting it really forces you to apply what you’ve learned—and to see if you’ve actually learned what you’ve learned. I’m considering pursuing research later on in life, so I thought it was a good idea to get an idea of what it actually is like. These opportunities are definitely part of the reason why I chose Pomona.

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