A secondment at home

Oct ,31 2016

Mobility is a key requirement in the Marie Curie Fellowships. And at INBIONET, we all, follow this rule carefully. Thus, every INBIONET fellow must spend a couple of months in one or several laboratories from the network to master a technique. In INBIONET, each laboratory has its own speciality (for instance, José Bengoechea’s lab, in Queen’s Uni versity Belfast, where I belong to, is specialized in microbiology). So, by being taught by a partner lab, it will allow us to develop new skills relevant for our project. Indeed, each partnership is chosen regarding the project of the fellow. For this reason, I spent two months at Institute Pasteur in Paris France, to learn more about imaging. Basically, my project deals with the interactions between Klebsiella pneumoniae and the alveolar macrophages. Therefore, I’ve used significant microscopes as imaging for my project is crucial. So, going to a laboratory possessing powerful imaging facilities was an obvious choice. By the way, I come from Paris also!

Institute Pasteur is a world class research institution in the field of the infections. It has been founded by Louis Pasteur in 1887. Louis Pasteur is the pioneer of microbiology and the discoverer of a vaccine against rage. The institute has since, seen several Nobel prizes like Jacques Monod or Françoise Barré-Sinoussi. Today, it has lot of centres (medical or research) around the world. Undeniably, working at Institute Pasteur can only be an asset for every young student desiring to have a career in the field of infection.

Nevertheless, upon my arrival there, I felt a little bit confused since I haven’t worked so long in a french laboratory (only a couple of months). As most of my laboratory experience was gained abroad, it felt odd to be speaking French! On the other hand, I felt quite amused by my colleagues, as they thought that I was British since I’ve studied in Belfast. They were quite surprised when they knew that I was French. In all the cases, they were very friendly and my adaptation there was pretty easy.

I worked precisely with the Platform of Dynamic Imagery (PFID), a group of engineers who are specialised in various range of microscopes. Indeed, their facilities are amazing and allow you to explore the biology deeply. Among them, the possibility to carry experiments of live imaging, to obtain relevant information from fast acquired pictures, and others functionalities that few microscopes have. As the availability of this type of equipment is limited to a few institutions worldwide, the members of the PFID are approached by many research teams from Institute Pasteur and from external investigators. Therefore, having the opportunity to receive training at the platform provided me with greater skill to enable better analysis.

Despite their considerable amount of work, engineers of the PFID, were kind to help me pursue better conditions my project. Notably, by improving some parts of my protocol for the staining of my cells (technique consisting in bounding fluorescent proteins to our targeted cells in aim they are visible under a fluorescent microscope). Secondly, by training me for the use of various machines. In particular, one that I’ve used in Belfast, the SP5. Hence, my manipulations of this microscope have been enhanced thanks to the assistance of the researchers of this platform. As a result, I feel more confident than before, to use microscopy techniques.

Was this time spent in Paris relevant to me? Obviously yes! First of all, before leaving Belfast, I had issues with my staining, and this minor problem was solved in the Institute Pasteur. In addition, a better use of the devices allowed me to see what I was looking for. In particular co-localizations between the bacterium Klebsiella pneumoniae and proteins of interest, since they are an undeniable proof of interaction and are relevant for my project.

Finally, microscope requires not only time to capture good pictures but also hours to count what you have seen (such as number of co-localizations) in order to provide a statistically relevant result. Some performant microscopes are able to take countless pictures in a given wide area in your absence. Therefore, it gives you time to do another task and also to save hours. Thanks to this experience, I got very informative and relevant results for my project.
As a conclusion, I think that secondments are definitely useful as a part of thesis. Indeed, a tool can be helpful to make a breakthrough in a research project. However, a laboratory can’t master all the possible techniques. Hence, spending a couple of months in another laboratory will allow you to learn something new and increase your scientific skills. Moreover, secondments have others advantages: the mobility, the experience and the development of your network which are crucial points in the CV of a young researcher. Therefore, I want to thank Marie Curie network for having given to me the opportunity to do this training at Institute Pasteur.