Working in the team of Dr. Jean Livet at Paris’s Institut de la Vision, MIT junior Sunanda Sharma learned about Brainbow technology, a method of marking related cells with variations of a single color, to help understand cell lineage and local development. She began creating new constructs for refined cell identification, and learned micro-injection techniques to deliver the Brainbow-DNA to spinal cords of chick and quail embryos. She then performed micro-dissection to isolate the developing spinal cords, and subsequently imaged them using confocal microscopy.
These vibrant colors contain information about “sister cells” - cells from a common ancestor, which appear clustered throughout the spinal cord. Collecting and organizing this information in an intuitive visual representation was a tough task, and Sunanda worked with the computer vision team at the Institut to perform image analysis. In the end, Sunanda created scripts in MATLAB to view the data in a navigable 3d-triangular prism graph, an analogue of the spinal cord itself.
As a biology major at MIT, Sunanda had previously worked in a lab setting, but had yet to experience advanced molecular biology and biotechnology. During the summer, she learned many critical wet lab skills - from gel electrophoresis to DNA construction - as well as specialized procedures, such as micro- dissection and slice manipulation. Sunanda was especially intrigued by the cross-disciplinary nature of the research; in this setting, biologists were also inventors, coders, and data analysts. “The fluidity and collaboration in the research environment resulted in a more thorough scientific process, and therefore more progress towards answering the big questions about how cells are related, grouped, and how they work together in various systems.” Sunanda looks forward to returning to Europe after graduation to continue research in neuroscience and bioengineering.