Hallo! from Jacob

Hallo from Deutschland! Yesterday we began our research at the University of Potsdam. Our first day at the lab we met the scientists and made a schedule. This is a large lab group of ~25 people, all here working on different projects. Everyone is incredibly nice and friendly. Our work is facilitated by George Xenikoudakis, a PhD student. In the next two weeks, we’re aiming to work through half our samples with Heather taking point, and then the following two weeks Mayeesha and I will work with George to process the other half.

There are multiple sections of the facility, with different rooms for different procedures. It’s really important not to contaminate the labs, so if you go into the PCR room or modern lab, you can’t go back into the ancient lab until you’ve changed and showered.

Today, we donned our protective suits (and gloves and mask and hairnet and crocs and more gloves) and began the DNA extraction process, working in the ancient lab. We ground our samples into powder and added buffers to begin digestion, and left them heating in an incubator overnight. Tomorrow we’re going to finish the aDNA extraction, and test to see whether we have any DNA in our samples.

Jacob Harris in his ancient DNA smurf suit

My cool suit

We worked a little with our modern specimens as well, running them through the TapeStation machine, which through a gel electrophoresis-type process created a distribution showing the frequencies of different size DNA fragments. Longer fragments work better later in the process, and luckily our samples look like they have plenty of those. We’ve ordered the primers we need to start the PCR, and hopefully they’ll arrive soon.

I’m still a little jetlagged, so I didn’t say much and kept bumping into things. I think I’ve made an excellent first impression.

Potsdam is a beautiful city. I’ve been running every morning, and the trails and paths are awesome. I’ll be running on a forested dirt trail, and suddenly find myself in the ruins of a Prussian castle. There are walking and bike paths everywhere, so it’s really easy to run and explore. The food is great too. The bread is especially delicious, and I get these excellent sandwiches for lunch from the school cafe.

I’ve been learning so much. Being immersed in a lab environment is a great experience, and our work is clarifying a lot of what I’ve been studying, both last week and in CGI. I’m really looking forward to continuing our research, and hopefully not knocking anything else over.

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