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CMMG labs open up new horizons for eleven undergraduates from Boston to Houston

Ah, summer! For the typical undergraduate, summer means a time to kick back, go home for a little R&R, hang around with old friends and family, and basically gather steam for the next year in college. But, like the ten other undergraduates who came to CMMG labs this summer, Megan Hurt realized that a summer job would help see her through the next year of college, and that it doesn't have to mean being a sales clerk at the local mall, or skirting the splatter from the French fry vats at a fast food. She set her sights higher, and thought "win-win." She compiled a one-page resumé after her freshman year, and found the five-year old SURP program in CMMG, a 12-week program which pays the student (usually a college sophomore) a nice stipend ($2,500). Oh, and did we mention? a chance to learn first hand at a lab bench that Hollywood portrayals of lab nerds and mad scientists are a trifle overblown?


This was Meghan's second year in SURP , but the first for ten others who came from near (WSU, Michigan State, Henry Ford Community College) and far (Harvard in Boston, Barnard College in New York City, Baylor in Houston, and Carleton in Minnesota) to converge on Detroit's medical campus for a chance to peer at cells under the microscope, dabble in recombinant DNA, learn to distinguish FISH from SKY , and use a self-glowing protein called GFP from a jellyfish to trace how a chicken nerve cell's axon wends its way across a Petri dish.


Meghan's interest in biology began when she enrolled in AP-Biology as a junior at a small but intense all-girls high school in Michigan , which had a graduating class of 160 girls. At Notre Dame , Meghan realized that majoring in science would allow her to not only cover all the pre-med required courses, but expose her to more intense science courses, and connect her with a peer group of biology students which she found more to her liking than the average pre-med. Majoring in biology vs pre-med for her also meant a smaller peer group (70 vs 150). For the summer of 2005, Megan returned to the lab of Russ Finley which is focused on defining protein-interaction networks ("interactomes")-in fruit flies ( Drosophila ) and bacteria (Campylobacter jejuni). Her goal for the summer was to make a recombinant tool (plasmid pTLJ02) into a much more useful tool for high-throughput screening, which meant for her a lot of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) reactions and playing with recombinational cloning, potentially much more "cutting edge" than traditional cut-and-paste-with-ligase approaches. All in all, Meghan's time (in the new labs in the Eugene Applebaum Building on the south edge of WSU's medical campus), was productive and fun at the same time. Meghan is back at Notre Dame for her junior year, completing her biology major and thinking about the next step in her life, perhaps moving towards the M.D. degree, with a special interest in dermatology. Who knows?