Chuanjay Jeffrey Chen, 2013, Molecular Biology
My internship at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) focused on using a genomics approach to study sea urchin longevity. Aging refers to a progressive decline in physiological function and fertility that ultimately leads to increased mortality risk. The red sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus) demonstrates none of these characteristics throughout its long lifespan—up to 200 years. In contrast, the closely related Strongylocentrotus purpuratus lives on average for 50 years, while another sea urchin species, Lytechinus variegatus, lives for only 3-4 years. The longest-lived species displays an age-related increase in expression of a protein called hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1α), which allows animal cells to adapt to low oxygen conditions. HIF-1α also induces a metabolic switch that reduces the production of reactive oxygen species, which is thought to minimize damage to cellular components and ultimately delay or eliminate aging. My job was to confirm this expression pattern on the ribonucleic acid (RNA) level using real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) and on the protein level using western blots.