Kevin Ahn

Kevin Ahn

Kevin Ahn is a second-year Biology student from Montreal who participated in a 12-week summer research project with Professor Steve Jean at Université de Sherbrooke, investigating the optimization of translated mRNA in intestinal cells.

As a new student in Biology and Chemistry whose first-year science labs were conducted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kevin’s B.E.S.T. project was essentially his first in-person scientific laboratory experience. Though many of the laboratory protocols and procedures were new to him, the guidance and mentorship provided by the project’s research investigators allowed Kevin to carry out experiments on his own and interpret the results as the project progressed.

The project on which Kevin worked focused on the process of autophagy, which means ‘self-eating’. As Kevin explains, “Autophagy is the body’s natural way of cleaning out damaged cells or dysfunctional components to regenerate cellular components. Although pathways controlling autophagy induction and progression are somewhat established in cell models, the molecular understanding of these pathways in the context of the gut and intestines still needs to be elucidated. Using the fruit fly as a model organism, the focus of the project was to find the optimal method to extract a protein of interest  that may provide insights to the molecular pathways of autophagy in the gut.”

From the investigators, Kevin learned the steps involved in the project’s experimental model and the rationale behind them. The team first collected female fruit flies that had not yet mated with males, then performed a technique called immunoprecipitation to extract the protein of interest from the fruit flies. Finally, they carried out a process called Western Blot, which is technique used to detect specific protein molecules from a mixture of proteins, to determine if and to what degree the immunoprecipitation was successful.

After approximately 10 rounds of the experiment, some of which were successful and some not at all, the team did identify which chemical component they tested was the most successful at improving the immunoprecipitation result – a satisfying result!

Kevin notes, “This project was a humbling experience, in that I gained so much respect for scientists after going through the grueling trials and errors myself! Many rounds of experiments did not produce the results that I was hoping for, even if I followed every single step correctly and ensured that the research environment was optimal. It is inevitable to face failed experiments, but their value is the process of analyzing what went wrong and trying out a new approach.”

Kevin describes the project as intense and rewarding, allowing him to expand his skills considerably and gain valuable hands-on experience using complex concepts. He looks forward to participating in more research projects to help identify the areas he is most interested in pursuing, and he also wants to share his experience with others. “This project allowed me to broaden my knowledge in science, and communicating about science in a way that is easy to understand is critical in lifting its visibility among the public,” says Kevin. “I hope to engage non-scientific community members in discussions of science to make the subject more approachable.”