Danielle's second week in Japan
Week 2: Arrival at the PRI, fishing in rural Japan, and the start of lab work
Arrival at the PRI
Orientation week was wonderful, but the time came for each of us to head to our respective host institutions. JSPS staff arranged for buses to take us to Tokyo Station, where we all gathered our luggage, said our goodbyes until August, and went our separate ways amongst the bustling crowd of people. I was extremely nervous to navigate the station alone, but thankfully the workers kindly gave me directions to the exact platform I needed to be at. Riding the bullet train, called a Shinkansen, from Tokyo to Nagoya was an exciting experience. These trains reach up to 200 mph! Once I arrived in Inuyama, I met with PRI administrative staff. They were very kind and took me shopping at a nearby grocery store before showing me to my room at the guesthouse located just next door to the PRI. The following day, I met Dr. Yukiori Goto, my host, and other graduate students. The Cognition and Learning department held a welcome party for me and the other interns, which was a lot of fun. We ate lots of food and chatted about sights to see in Japan and our research. Afterwards, Dr. Goto took us to Inuyama Castle. It was beautiful! Below is a photo from the very top of the castle.
This past weekend, Dr. Goto and his family took me and his other intern, Gabriel, on a fishing trip to Kiso Valley, which runs alongside the Central Alps. As we fished, we took in mountainous views and the weather was idyllic. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch any fish, but still had lots of fun enjoying the outdoors. That afternoon, we ate at a restaurant where we grilled fresh fish and rice cakes at our table over an open coal fire. The meal was delicious and the entire experience was very relaxing. We also visited old post towns. One of which was Magome, where we walked along a portion of the Nakasendo, a route that connected modern-day Tokyo to Kyoto during the Edo period (1603-1868). Fishing, nature, good company, and historical Japanese sites made for a trip I will always remember!
I was thrilled to begin working in the lab this week. My first task was to begin genetic analyses, which I am working on with Dr. Hiroyuki Tanaka, a geneticist whose expertise is macaque phylogeny. The methods we are using to study our genes of interest, MAOA and MAOB, are multiplex PCR and microsatellite analysis. If you are unfamiliar with molecular lab methods, you may be wondering what all of this means. Imagine zooming in on a specific gene (MAOA and MAOB) to study its details very precisely. Some genes come in various forms, represented by certain observable molecular components, and these different versions are called alleles. Using multiplex PCR (polymerase chain reaction), a genetic analyzer machine, and computer software allows us to achieve our goal of determining which MAOA and MAOB alleles each monkey in our study has. The two species we are sampling from are rhesus and Japanese macaques. Later, we will analyze behavioral observations of each monkey and search for associations between specific alleles and aggressive behavior. So far, we have identified polymorphisms in both genes in each species. This is a good start because in order for the study to be carried out as planned, we must have genetic variation within our sample. Dr. Tanaka is a fantastic teacher and I am enjoying learning new lab techniques under his guidance.
I am on track to finish genetic analyses this week and plan to begin behavior analysis soon after. Please check back next week to hear more about the progress of my project.
Ja mata ne!
This research is funded by the National Science Foundation East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students (EAPSI) in collaboration with the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS).