China Research

Steven Jong Vs. Xia Men (Who Will Be The Victor?)

Hello everybody. My name is Steven Jong and I’ll be your blogger for today. I have been in Xiamen for about two and a half weeks now and things are starting to settle down. The name of the project I am working on is called “Whole Cell Response Characteristics of Ciliated and Microvillous Olfactory Receptor Neurons to Amino Acids, Pheromone Candidates, and Urine in Chinese Black Sleeper Fish.” It’s quite a mouthful. But basically, I am studying how the neurons in the fish’s nose react to different kinds of stimulus. I dissect the olfactory sacks out of the Chinese Black Sleeper’s nostrils, blend it a little bit to release all the cells, separate the cells using an enzyme, and then use the patch clamp technique to examine the cells when stimuli are introduced.

Alright, time for a weekly update.

Research wise, this week was very similar to last week. From Monday through Wednesday, no experiments were conducted. Since the other students in the lab share the same fish we use for our experiments, and since this week was finals week, nothing was done for these three days. Instead, I spent the time on my computer researching background information for my project as well as reading and understanding the manuals for the devices I use for the experiments.

On Wednesday, I was lucky enough to practice on the machines used for the project. Before Wednesday, I was always a spectator. The experiments were always done by my partner in crime, Lai Xiao Jiang. This project belongs to Lai and this is for his doctorates degree. I was able to try out the micropipette puller, which is a machine that heats a glass tube and pulls it in order to form a pipette with a tip opening that’s smaller than a cell. I was also able to practice on the patch clamp machine. The device is connected to a rather large microscope. The clamp is an electrode that you insert into the pipette you make from the puller. The pipette is then used to “suck” onto the membrane of a cell. The electrode then runs a current through the cell and the changes in potential and resistance are observed. Every piece of equipment in this project is highly fragile so a steady hand and patience are required. I’d post up some pictures of the device but the school’s internet says otherwise. Our internet connection is downright terrible. I’ll load the images when I go back to the lab.

Thursday was experiment day! Yeah! We spent the afternoon dissecting enough olfactory sacks to use for patch clamp. I don’t really want to get into great details about how we treat the fish because it is a bit graphic. Thats one difference between China and America, China does not have the same moral conundrums with animal cruelty as we do. After the dissection was done, we proceeded to clamp the cells. Lai and I ran into the same problem we had last week, the cells weren’t sticking to the cover glass. In preparation, a cover glass is placed in an amino acid solution. Since the amino acid solution and the cells hold opposing charges, they would attract causing them to “stick” together. Well, they didn’t. It was impossible for us to suck onto the cells if they weren’t anchored down. Our best course of action was to send an email to the professor who had a similar procedure in his experiment asking for advice.

Yesterday, we took a day off to go visit the famous earthen houses of Fujian. Our adventure began bright and early in the morning. We all hopped onto a tiny tour bus and traveled for three hours before arriving at our destination. The ride there was terrible. Since we signed up with a tour group, the whole bus was packed. I wont make fun of any companies adding leg room to their seats anymore. Being in the fetal position for three hours was not comfortable. If that wasn’t bad enough, the air conditioner occasionally blew out cold air when it wasn’t giving a complimentary shower, aka a leaking pipe. Once there, we all had lunch in a little restaurant. The food wasn’t too good either but they had bamboo, which was something I’ve been looking forward to eating for a while.

The earthen houses we visited were massive structures used as forts during several dynasties. Most of the houses we saw were made in the Qing dynasty. My rant continues. I was really disappointed with the tour. It would have been much nicer if we could freely roam around the area instead of being lead by a tour guide. The scenery and the outside of the earthen houses were quite majestic. But once you got inside the houses, it was an onslaught of other tourist groups and gift shops. Once the tour was over, we made our way back to the bus and headed on back. The bus ride back was the same but felt a lot longer. Funny, I thought it was the return trip that felt shorter. Our Xiamen University friends that came along with us were kind enough to bring us to a nice hot pot restaurant. Our dinner was absolutely delicious. Everyone had a great time.

After dinner, one of the students working in Cathy’s lab was nice enough to take Cathy and I to a rather nice Mahjong parlor where she and her friends go to play every Friday night. It felt kind of weird barging in on their Friday night tradition, and I’m sure Cathy felt the same way, but they seemed really happy to have us with them. I was raised up playing the Taiwanese version of Mahjong. The students were playing the Xiamen version. It was very different from Taiwanese Mahjong. They really urged me to play so I tried it out. I was so lost at first but I slowly understood the differences and actually won a bunch of matches. Hopefully we will get a set for ourselves to play with. I could use a bit more money from Duncan anyways.

Phew… that was a lot. Thanks for tuning in and hopefully next week will be as exciting as this week was. Till next time… Zai Jian!