Lambing – April 2014

From Monday 7th – Friday 11th April, I did work experience on Carter Farm in Ruckinge, Kent. They have about 600 sheep, all of which were lambing in the first three weeks of April, though they always have a few earlies and lates. I had a fantastic time on the farm and really enjoyed it all. Unlike other work experience placements I have done, this was hands on experience and I knew that I was contributing to the team of farm workers. Rather than blogging each day as I have done so previously, I will talk about each aspect of the work I did across the week, as many days were very similar.

Lambing

lambing barn plan

The sheep were lambed in a large barn, the general plan of which can be seen above. Most sheep lambed in the central pens (coloured orange) which each contained about 30 ewes. Therefore one of the most important jobs was taking the ewes with their lambs out of these pens and into a cubicle (coloured purple). To do this, we slowly approached theDSCN3418 lambed ewe, who would often be licking her new born lambs. We then took the lambs by their hind legs and begun to drag them away. The mother would normally sniff the lambs and immediately follow. In this way, most sheep could be led anywhere. Often we would leave them in the alleys between pens if the mother was agitated before moving them the entire way to a cubicle.

However, sometimes problems would arise. On Tuesday morning, we spotted a single lamb in the centre pen. Edging into the pen, we began to drag the lamb out but two sheep followed. Roy, who has been a shepherd for 60 years, showed me how we could easily tell which ewe the lamb belonged to because of the placenta hanging from her vulva. Even after the afterbirth, it is easy to tell a lambed ewe because of the enlarged vulva and wetness that remains for a prolonged period. Although we knew which ewe was the mother, an old, large ewe persistently tried to lick the lamb, following whenever we tried to take the lamb. Eventually we managed to encourage the real mother out and quickly shut the gate before the other ewe could follow. This older ewe continued to be troublesome until later that day when she gave birth to twins and was at last satisfied!

Tuesday was an eventful day in the large pens. The ewes were lambing fast and after lunch we returned to the barn to find that several sheep had lambed in the same pens. Sorting out the sheep wasn’t generally a problem because earlier in the year, the ewes had been scanned and marked according to whether they were to have singles, twins or triplets. This also identifies which ewes are not pregnant. They are then sent to market. We pulled several lambs out, with several mums following and soon the problem had condensed into one issue – a sheep, marked to have a single, had ‘stolen’ a lamb from a sheep which had given birth to twins. The single mother would not accept her own lamb and neither would the mother of twins, leaving both mothers with one lamb each and a lamb with no mother. Roy made the choice to try and adopt it on to another mother.

Adoption and Sock Lambs

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for lambs to be rejected by their mothers so during the week I learnt about the two main attempts which are normally made to encourage mothers to take a lamb. If a single lamb has been born to a mother with sufficient milk for two lambs, the rejected lamb can be rubbed with the mucus from the birth and as a result the mother may accept them as twins. However, for this to be successful the timing must be perfect with the reject being taken to the mother almost immediately after birth. An alternative method for adoption is skinning a dead lamb. It is sad but must be accepted that roughly 10% of all lambs die (only 2% of mothers die during lambing), and I realised that it is best to put these dead to good use if possible. Therefore, it was with mixedDSCN3412 emotions that I watched as Roy spotted a dead lamb of a single mother. If this mother would not take another lamb, she would be useless. Roy took his pen knife and sliced through the lamb’s fleece, chopping off its legs and head. Whilst keeping the head hole as small as possible, Roy pulled the body of the lamb out of its skin. He left the ugly, pink form in the shape of a lamb, lying on the floor and I had to remind that it had already been dead but was now opening up a life for another lamb. Taking the lamb in need of a mother (this one was from a set of triplets whose mother did not have enough milk to look after all three of them adequately), Roy pulled the skin over its head and slipped its arms and legs through the appropriate holes. It was just like a little jacket and was a perfect fit. Putting the lamb with its new mother, we knew that only time would tell whether it had worked, as some mothers are much more gullible than others. I was pleased that had seen a lamb being skinned because it brought to life the reality of lambing. It is a process undergone, not simply for the joy of seeing new life but for financial gain, to keep the farming business alive. The joy of new life is a wonderful bonus. I don’t know if I would be able to a lamb myself but this particular adoption was a success and it was great to see a life given a chance of living.

But adoption didn’t always work and wasn’t always an option, sometimes the lambs were too small and weak and need some tender loving care. On one occasion, a mother with twins tried to reject one of her lambs to the extreme. She nipped it, throwing it about and pushing into it. She pushed it with so much force that she even managed to break the door. Roy decided to try and get her under control rather than take the lamb away, so he made a halter out of string and tied her firmly to the wall, showing the lamb where to suckle. But she continued to kick at him. After several hours, we realised that it was a lost cause and Roy explained that he was also worried that it may have been injured with the possibility of broken ribs. Consequently it was placed into my arms and I carried it inside where it would join the other small, weak, rejected and injured lambs who became sock lambs.

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There was a small outbuilding on the farm where we made coffee and ate lunch, and in here was a wooden pen with a lamp hanging above it under which the sock lambs huddled. Every morning when I arrived and every evening before I left and at random intervals throughout the day when a small lamb was given to me, I would bottle feed the lambs. I would make up some milk using instant lamlac, a ewe milk replacer, then hold the lambs on my lap one at a time to feed. The older ones knew what to do and leapt up, eager to be fed when they heard the milk being prepared, whilst the younger ones, who were often still very weak, were less confident. I often had to force the teat into their mouths before they settled down and sucked contently. I grew very DSCN3394attached to many of them, especially number 11, who had a cyst near the base of his spine meaning that his back legs had become deformed. We weren’t sure whether he would make it, but with two antibiotic injections every day and lots of milk, we saw rapid improvement and by the end of my week, he was hobbling at speed around the room and always first on his feet during feeding time. However, I could not become too attached. Almost every morning when I walked in, I was greeted by the sad sight of several dead sock lambs who had not made it through the night. On Wednesday, I was trying hard to feed an extremely small lamb. It was barely sucking so I had to gently squeeze the teat to force milk into its mouth. When I put it down it wobbled DSCN3397on its weak legs and dribbled out lots of the milk I’d just given it. I laid it down under the lamp but it was dead within the hour. Another sad story was that of a lamb which landed in the water bucket. It had been completely submerged but was just breathing when someone spotted it and fished it out. It was put into my arms and I ran it inside. I put it under the lamp and sat with it, rubbing its coat and patting its back. Its breathing became stronger, and eventually I left, knowing that I could do no more for it. Unfortunately it did not make it.

Docking, Castrating and Marking

Once the lambs were in the lambing cubicles, they were left for some time to bond with their mother. However, as soon as they were ‘dry’ (normally within 24 hours), we docked, castrated and marked the lambs. We did this using an elastrator and small elastic bands. After placing the elastic band on the elastrator, it could be squeezed, stretching the ring. Roy showed me how to hold the lamb between my knees and slip the stretched ring over the tail to its base, where the skin became visible, then pull the ring off the elastrator, leaving it on the tail. The tail would then fall off after 7 to 10 days. At the same time, the male lambs could be castrated by placing a ring at the neck of the scrotum, causing the scrotum to shrivel and fall off within two to three weeks. It was very important to ensure that both testicles could be felt underneath the ring and a couple of times I could not find DSCN3398the testicles and Roy explained that they may not have dropped yet. It took several goes to get the knack of it, but by Wednesday we had a smooth production line going. Roy would check which lambs had already been ringed and which needed doing and then we would work our way down the cubicles. Roy fished out a lamb using a shepherds hook and handed it to me to ring whilst he marked up the mother. I would then dock and castrate (if it was male) the lamb and spray iodine onto the umbilical cord before handing it back to Roy to number. The single lambs and ewes were left unmarked whilst the twins were given the same number as each other and their mother and triplets were given the same letter of the alphabet. This was done in red spray whilst all the ewes also had a blue ‘C’ on them, standing for ‘Collick’, the name of the farmer. Roy was so kind to trust me with the ringing and I really enjoyed doing it as I gradually improved, finding it easier as the week progressed.

Organising Sheep

The rung lambs and their mother could then be moved from the lambing cubicles into the small pens (coloured turquoise). 14 ewes with their lambs would be kept in these at one time, giving the sheep a chance to socialise and become used to being in a group. It DSCN3417helped to ensure that the ewes and lambs would recognise and be able to find each other in a large field full of sheep. Therefore, several times a day, I would find myself scooping up lambs and chasing sheep through the barn. Roy would identify the 14 to be moved then open up the door, chasing out the sheep and lambs. I would stand behind the ewe, whistling and clapping, encouraging her to walk down the aisle and into the open pen. Sometimes the lamb(s) would follow by themselves but normally I would have to grab their legs and carry them into the pen as they fidgeted and bleated, confused as to all the upheaval. Occasionally the ewe would be uncooperative and we would chase her up and down the aisles, and sometimes she would calmly follow if allowed to sniff her lambs. Every sheep was different and it was an exercise of versatility. I was initially shocked at the roughness with which the lambs were handled. They were normally carried using one foot, and often thrown onto the straw floor. But Roy had 60 years experience and I trusted him when he told me that the lambs were tougher than they looked, and not easily hurt. He told me that one of the few scenarios in which the lambs got injured by being handled like this was if there legs got caught up with your legs when carrying them. By the end of the week I was used to the procedure and found myself throwing the lambs about like I never thought I would’ve!

With lambs continually being born, the process of moving sheep from pen to pen and ringing and marking them as we went was also a continuous job, which we spent most of every day doing. When the lambs and sheep had been moved into the small pens, they were soon moved on into even larger pens in a different barn, filled with dozens of lambed ewes. Then within several days they would be taken to one of the many fields belonging to the farm. On Monday, I went with Dick and Dave – two men who volunteered on the farm during lambing – as they took some sheep to one of the fields. We loaded them into the trailer, first catching all the lambs and putting them in a portioned off section so they would not get trampled, then chasing all of the sheep in after them. We drove them to a nearby field where they were unloaded. We checked that all the lambs had found their mothers and then continued on a round of all the fields where there were lambs, checking that all was well. In one field, a ewe had managed to get her head stuck in a tree but luckily that was all and we found no dead lambs.

On Thursday, I went out to the field again, but this time it was to bring sheep in. The ewes are served (mated by rams) at intervals, with the hope that they do not all lamb in the same short space of time. However, one lamb had already been born in the field of late DSCN3428lambers and so the decision was made to bring them to a field opposite the farm, so they could be conveniently moved inside when the majority were ready to lamb. I went with Dick and Pip – the farm manager – in the tractor to the field, taking Ash the sheep dog with us. Ash helped to quickly round up the sheep so we could chase them into a makeshift pen. After finding and ringing the lamb which had already been born, we let it and its mother back into the field then loaded the sheep into the trailers.

Feeding and Littering

By the afternoon, the sheep were normally organised adequately to ensure that there were sufficient free lambing cubicles for any new-born lambs. Therefore, every afternoon we fed all the sheep. The sheep were fed on nuggets and fodder beet. Fodder beet is a cross between sugar beet and mangelwurzel, and is a nutritious, fibrous feed which the sheep love. First of all we moved the sheep in the large, centre pens who were ready to lamb, down into a single pen. They were very squashed, but it was only for a short period of time. Pip would then drive in with the tractor carrying a large scoop full of fodder beet. Through a combination of tipping and throwing, we would distribute the beet into all of the middle pens before letting the sheep back through. Then we would take a sack of nuggets into each pen and empty them, spreading the nuggets through all the sheep. The sheep always knew when it was feeding time and the drone of baas which usually filled the air would immediately escalate to an almost deafening chorus! The sheep in these pens always had water available with a piping system set up to feed water into large buckets.

DSCN3413After this, it was normally my job to load the wheelbarrow full of nuggets and make my way down the lambing cubicles, throwing a small scoop to every ewe. I would then take the hose along the aisle, ensuring that every cubicle had buckets, half filled with clean water – the sheep had a tendency to knock over their water buckets. Finally, we would take a wheelbarrow of fodder beet down, cutting the beets into smaller pieces with a spade so that every ewe received roughly a third of a large beet, although the sizes were very variable.

The last job of the afternoon was always littering. It was important that hygiene was DSCN3423maintained despite the constant activity and huge numbers of sheep. There needed to be as many clean cubicles as possible available for the night when Pip needed to be able to pull ewes with their new born lambs into cubicles when necessary. Littering consisted of raking the muck and straw from the bottom of every empty cubicle and then covering the bottom with a thick layer of straw. It was surprisingly hard work mucking out and never failed to exhaust me, leaving my hands itching with blisters from the rake.

Delivering

The whole week was extremely hard work and I went home exhausted yet satisfied every evening. However, the most fulfilling and incredible experience I had was delivery. Roy was always on the lookout for sheep giving birth, and told me about the tell-tale signs of a ewe preparing to lamb. It was possible to listen for the mum heaving and a drip of mucus would appear hanging from her vulva. The mother would eat the waters at this point because it was valuable protein which could not be wasted. The ultimate indicator was when the hooves became visible. Most sheep successfully lambed by themselves. But several times we intervened. The first time Roy intervened it was to show me how it was done. Then when I working alongside Pip, he spotted a ewe lambing and let me deliver it! I could see the hooves of one foot so put my hand into her uterus and felt for the other leg. Taking these hooves between my index and middle finger, I tugged the second leg out into the open. I then firmly pulled both legs until the nostrils were just visible. Pulling her vulva back, Pip helped me to continue tugging the legs until finally the head followed and in one swift movement I delivered the entire lamb. After clearing the mouth and nose of mucus, the next job was to ensure it could breathe. There were several ways of doing this including sticking a piece of straw up the nose or pinching the end of lamb’s ear as there are sensitive nerves here which can shock the lamb into breathing. Finally, we placed the lamb by its mother and she began to lick it. It was a fantastic sight and I was filled with awe at the miracle of life.

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However, several other deliveries were not so straight forward. Roy and I were walking past the pens when suddenly we noticed a sheep with a lamb’s head hanging from its vulva but no legs were in sight. She was running around, heaving and panicking, so Roy immediately lay her on the ground and started pushing the head back in against her contractions. I watched as he pushed with all his might, making the most of the slight delays between every contraction as the were extremely strong. Eventually the lamb’s head slipped back in and Roy felt around for the legs. He found one so pulled it out but couldn’t reach the other so took a chance and pulled with the one leg. Just when it looked like he would have to start again and reposition the lamb to find the other leg, he successfully managed a one-legged delivery! It was a huge relief because Roy explained that if we had not spotted the lamb’s head hanging out, it would have died and then the mother would have died from blood poisoning. He also told me that if the lamb was dead, it could be delivered quickly and easily to save the mother’s life by slitting along the forearms and pulling out the bones. This is possible because the shoulder blades are not attacked to anything so both entire arms can be removed, leaving a streamlined form to be delivered.

Some sheep also had some lucky escapes. One was lambing with one foot back. Roy was just about to intervene when it managed to sort itself out. Another ewe had previously had prolapse where her uterus had been ejected during the pregnancy. Roy had pushed the uterus back and successfully used a couple of stitches to secure it in place. He also explained that this didn’t also work and a prolapse harness (or improvised string harness) could be used to hold it in place. It was important to keep an eye on this ewe because as she came close to lambing, the stitches had to be removed otherwise the lamb could no come out. Roy spotted her as she began to lamb so quickly cut out the stitches. There was a 50% chance that the uterus would come out again. If it did, this could have serious consequences because the uterus would almost certainly become infected. Although penicillin would be given if this did happen, survival could not be guaranteed. However, the birth was successful without prolapse and we were all over the moon!

 

I really enjoyed my week lambing on Carter Farm, I have learnt so much and been worked extremely hard but nevertheless loved every minute of it. Thank you so much to Pip Collick as well as Roy, Dick and Dave and everyone else on the farm who did so much to make this a week worth remembering. I’m hoping to return next year and see the stresses, strains and wonders of the lambing process unfold once again.

Montgomery Vets – 14th April 2014

I am going to be spending this week at Montgomery Vets, in Evegate Business park, Smeeth. Today was my first day and I was very excited because they specialise in exotics, something I have not previously had much exposure to. I went in and introduced myself to the head nurse, Leah Parkinson and she showed my around. The vets was tiny with two small waiting rooms, an office, two consulting rooms – one which doubled as a prep room and an operating theatre, as well some space out the back where medication and food is stored and a tiny room acting a kennels. It was so different from both Kingsnorth and Barrowhill vets. There are normally two practicing vets, Clive (who owns the practice with his wife Jane. Jane spends most of her time working as full time vet at Port Lymne Zoo!) and Roland as well as two nurses, Leah and Lucy. After being introduced to everyone, Roland asked me to help him draw up premeds for the cats and rabbit who were undergoing operations this morning. He even let me inject the rabbit, which was brilliant. The premeds included antiinflammatories to reduce the inflamation which inevitably results from invasive procedures, painkillers to lower the heart rate which would otherwise increase because of the adrenaline release stimulated by the pain, making the animal more comfortable whilst under anaesthetic and when it initially wakes up, and sedatives which mean that a lower dose of anaesthetic can be used to knock it out and also reduce the stress the animal feels from being in the vets.

The first procedure was a cat castrate. The cat could be given up to 1ml of anaesthetic, but most cats would fall asleep before all of it was administered. Roland showed me the thick, white medication and explained that only medication of this consistency could be injected into a vein as particles found in almost all other medicines can block venuoles. First, the nurse plucked the fur off the scrotum and cleaned it with disinfectant. Then Roland cut out the first testicle before tying the cord and blood vessel together. As he completed by repeating the procedure with the second testicle, he explained that there were many different ways of doing it. I asked why they didn’t just use an elastic ring as they use during lambing as it would be much cheaper. However, this would raise many welfare issues; it would be likely to get infected with the cat licking it and could easily go wrong, whilst owners would be unlikely to appreciate their cat’s testicles falling off on their carpet.

Next was a cat spay. Unusually, the owner had requested a flank spay rather than a midline. There are advantages and disadvantages to both spaying methods, however at Montgomery Vets they usually perform midline spays. It can be easier to find the uterus on a flank spay but leaves a larger patch of more visible trimmed fur. After the operation, Roland left me with the removed uterus and ovaries and the clamps so I spend some time looking at it close up. Despite having seen many spays previously, I have never been given the chance to handle a uterus and it was really interesting.

The rabbit was now ready to be anaesthetized ready for its dental. It is high risk putting a rabbit under anaesthetic especially as they are unable to put a tube down its throat. Instead, a mask has to be used and therefore a higher concentration of anaesthetic is needed because more of the anaesthetic diffuses into the surroundings rather than the rabbits lungs. Using a specialised stand, the rabbit’s mouth was clamped open. Roland showed me how the top molars were spurring into the cheek and explained that bottom molars would spur into the tongue, although the only the top was a problem for this rabbit. He filed down the spikes and pulled out one of the top molars which was causing the majority of the problems.

An ultrasound scan was performed on a 15 year old border collie. It had previously collapsed, triggering the investigation. Blood tests showed the wrong balance of red cells and plasma but the ultrasound showed no obvious problems. Therefore, the scan used to assist in taking a sample of fluid from the stomach. The ultrasound showed the needle entering the stomach and helped the vet to guide it into an area of fluid – shown as black on the screen. This would be sent to the lab and hopefully reveal more about what could be causing the changes in this dog.

Before lunch, a drug rep from nutravet came in to talk to the vets and nurses about their products. nutravet have developed nutraceuticals – medications made from natural ingredients. These include nutraquin aimed at improving osteoarthritis and other joint degenerative diseases and nutracys to help manage feline cystitis, a huge problem in many cats. The rep was especially advertising the client-aimed leaflets that come with the products so the owner can assess the improvements their animals are making, understanding the purpose of the product and making it easier for a vet to prescribe. Having recently read an article in the Veterinary Times which concluded that there was very little evidence for the effectiveness of nutraceuticals, it was interesting to hear about this company’s success. I wondered how much of it was due to the medication and how much of it was a result of the client-friendly information, helping owners to become more aware of their animals condition and therefore provide better care for them.

After lunch, I spent some time in consults with Roland. A golden retriever was brought in for a preop check before her spay. She had a fishy smell, suggesting that she may be in season, however, her vulva was closed meaning that she was not in season and the spay was ok to go ahead the next day.

A cockatiel was brought in for a beak trim. When the beak is displaced, the top and bottom mandibles do not grind against each other so grow uncontrollably. In situations such as these, the beak had to be trimmed about once a month. It is done carefully using a rotating file. It must be done very slowly otherwise the file becomes too hot causing pain as there are nerve endings and blood vessels further up the beak. This is similar to the quick in nails, meaning that the amount trimmed must be carefully judged. Whilst this was happening, the owner had to be out of the room, this is because birds are highly sensitive and could quickly associate the discomfort of the procedure with their owner’s presence. Instead, the owner ‘saves’ them at the end, ensuring that the bird to have a positive relationship with the client.

A dog with glaucoma was brought in to check on the eye pressure. Previously, there had been an episode where the blood pressure had suddenly escalated. This was surprising as the eye medication the dog was on should have the opposite effect. After putting local anaesthetic in the eye, Roland used a tonometer to measure the pressure. It had now returned to a normal level. Nevertheless, we took a sample of urine to indicate any kidney problems. Placing a small amount of urine in a refractometer, we could check the urine specific gravity which was slightly higher than normal. Using coloured patches confirmed that there was a high protein content in the urine so there could be possible problems with function. However, the client’s financial strains meant they only wanted bloods to be taken for further investigation if it was a necessity. Therefore it was decided to keep an eye on how the dog was doing rather than acting now. Aside from this, the dog also had bad breath so the owners asked for some penicillin to help keep this under control.

A red setter was brought in with red, raw skin where it had been chewing itself. This could be the result of fleas or some other allergic reaction. It was prescribed a steroid spray, to be used on the surface to reduce the inflammation, a cream to sooth the already damaged skin and some flea treatment to prevent the risk of fleas. In addition to this, the owner asked for something to help with his excessive wind so the vet gave them a probiotic which should improve balance in the stomach.

The last consult I saw today was a love bird which had been sitting on the bottom of its cage not eating for 2 days. As prey animals, birds are very good at hiding symptoms and therefore a sudden change like this can indicate a serious problem. The bird had slightly wet faeces and although the wings, beak and body condition were all good, the vet noticed during his examination that one foot gripped better than the other. However, this was unlikely to be related to the symptoms so Roland decided to use trial treatment. They would first try antibiotics, with the importance of eating strongly emphasized. The owners were instructed to offer the bird its favourite foods and add glucose powder to its water if they had no success with solid food.

I really enjoyed my day at Montgomery vets and learnt many new things, especially as I have very rarely seen birds at the vets before.

Vetcam 2014

On 31st March – 1st April, I went to Cambridge University to attend Vetcam. I took the train there then walked from the train station to Queen’s College, where the course was based. I was quite nervous because I did not know anyone else on the course but I am lucky because my sister is studying music at Selwyn College, Cambridge, so I have been to Cambridge several times and know my way around. After being giving my key, on staircase M, I went back into the dining hall and talked to some of the other keen students, all with a desire to study veterinary medicine, possibly at Cambridge. It was amazing to look around the hall, filled with 150 people and it dawned on me how challenging the application process was going to be with so much competition. We talked about work experience, and everyone seemed to have a lot. One girl in particular told me about the lambing that she had done, so I am now really looking forward to the lambing I am going to be doing in a few weeks time.

I was very impressed that the whole course was arranged almost entirely by students, showing me that studying veterinary medicine isn’t just about learning the course but also about reaching out to others, highlighting the importance of veterinary medicine in our society as well as inspiring and encouraging prospective students. A third year vet told us to make our way to the Fitzwilliam Hall where we were given a talk by David Bainbridge about the first two years of the vet course. He ran through the course structure, explaining that this would be very similar in all vet schools. He then ppointed out that Cambridge was different because it is primarily science based and emphisizes working with non-standard species including fish, birds and rabbits. This really interested me as I love science and have scientific frame of mind. Furthermore, there are generally only 70 vets per year, meaning that the supervisors and lecturers know students as individuals, helping to ensure that everyone is supported. Dr Matthew Mason then talked to us about the third year. This is the main area in which Cambridge differs as it is the only vet school which offers an intercolated third year where you can choose a topic then subspecialise within this. It gives the opportunity to do unique research onto an area of your choice, working alongside some of the best vets in the UK. I find this really exciting and would love to spend a year doing independent, self-motivated learning into recent science, having the chance to really make a difference. Finally, Penny Watson talked to us about the final three clinical years. During this time lectures move to the vet school and you begin doing more practical work including rotations in the Cambridge RSPCA clinic, which is almost entirely run by Cambridge vet students. This gives the opportunity for client contact, developing communication skills, preparing you for the world of work.

In the afternoon, we got went to the Downing Site, which is where the science courses at Cambridge are based. We took part in a number of sessions including pathology, neurology, anatomy and pharmacology. I really enjoyed these and learnt loads of new things. I am beginning to realise that there is so much involved in veterinary medicine from the chemistry behind drug action to the mechanics of movement and the biological skills required to identify pathogens under the microscope. I think that this is one of the main reasons which I would love to study veterinary medicine because I would not be satisfied with an individual component of science but want to bring it all together and use it in way which will impact individuals.

After this we had some free time before dinner which I spent walking around the beautiful Queen’s College and watching punters on the river Cam. We were treated to formal hall which was fantastic, as we truly experienced the traditions of Cambridge and the food was delicious. There were also several vet students at the dinner so we got to talk to them and they told us about their experiences at Cambridge vet school. In the evening we had a quiz then watched a film before going to bed at about 1.00 a.m.

In the morning we got a coach up to Queen’s Veterinary School Hospital where we got the chance to look around. The facilities looked brilliant and the people who talked to us were all really nice and very knowledgable. In the afternoon, we divided into groups and went to different colleges. There are 29 undergraduate colleges in Cambridge, all with a unique touch which every student learns to love, claiming that there college is best. My group went to Downing College which is very open with lots of ground. It is very beautiful with large pillars around all its buildings. I especially enjoyed looking around the library where we climbed a spiral staircase and were blown away by the number of books. There is also a great student atmosphere and the room we were shown was impressive with a double bed and en-suite bathroom, although we were told that a room like this would be quite expensive.

Finally, we returned to the Fitzwilliam Hall in Queen’s College and were given three final lectures. The first was titled ‘Getting In’ by David Bainbridge. He talked about the application process which starts with sending in a UCAS form, then completing an online form specific to Cambridge, then entering the BMAT. Cambridge try to offer almost all applicants interviews which are given in early December and finally the decision letters are sent in early January. He also explained about the pooling system and how admission tutors select students. We were then given a lecture about interviews by Alun Williams. He talked about how well you need to know your personal statement and how you need to come across as a rounded person with a ‘spark’ of enthusiasm. The last lecture of the day was by Carys Redman-White who explained the application process from a student’s prospective. This was really encouraging and although I am scared about applying and feel intimidated by the process, part of me is looking forward to pushing myself and finding out what I am capable of.

I have really enjoyed the past couple of days and am now certain that veterinary medicine is truly what I want to do. I love the aspects of science which surrounds and the university experience is something I would never want to miss. The time I have spent in Cambridge has been incredible, I think that it is a stunning city and I definetely am going to apply. It will be extremely challenging but I feel ready to give myself this challenge.

Institute of Zoology – 1st November 2013

Today was my last day here in London. I have really enjoyed my week, especially seeing the process of chytrid swabbing from the very beginning, in the pet shop, right through the DNA extraction to the PCR and final analysis. I has been fascinating to be involved in the extraordinary world of research where everyone talks about papers and PhDs, the more papers to your name, the higher up you become. The devotion that the people I have met have to their is inspirational and I hope to one day do some research of my own, contributing a tiny drop to the sea of vast human knowledge. Yet from this week, I have learnt that every drop is powerful and has a huge impact on a small number of people, which turn has an impact on the wider society. For example, the research into chytridiomycosis will have a huge impact on pet shop owners, people with exotic pets and amphibian enthusiasts. These people will benefit from the learning about chytrid, how to prevent it and how to treat it so less of their animals will have chytrid. This will increase sales in pet shops, leading to greater profit which can be used to improve the conditions these pets are living, encouraging those who buy the pets to do likewise. Furthermore, if less amphibians are infected with chytrid, less will die and therefore less will be caught from the wild to be imported into England to supplement the deaths. This will reduce the sad impact which the pet trade often has on the environment, as it diminishes biodiversity. In addition to this, the research into chytrid can not only be applied to the pet trade but also amphibians in the wild. The greater our understanding of this disease, the more actions we can take to prevent wild animals being infected, preserving amphibian populations for generations to come and therefore maintaining ecosystems across the world.

Today, my cousin had lectures at the Royal Veterinary College as part of her MSc in Wild Animal Biology. This course is closely linked with the Wild Animal Health MSc, which is studies by vets wishing to specialise further into wild animals, therefore there were qualified vets in the lectures I attended. This was the first day of a new lecture series on epidemiology, with the introductory day consisting of 7 hours of lectures.

Introduction to Epidemiology – Dirk U. Pfeiffer

The first lecture introduced epidemiology as the study the incidence, distribution and control of diseases. Epidemiology pulls together many of the challenges facing veterinary medicine today which revolve around disease, from the complex multi-factorial relationships between animals disease, productivity and welfare to the control of new and emerging diseases and the impact human behaviour has on this. Imports and exports and improving transport along with an increasing population, allows for rapid spread of disease around the world, with Asia as the global hotspot. He picked up on ecosystems and how diseases emerge, first starting in the landscape of population growth and environmental change, spreading to the natural community of urbanisation and forest habitat alteration, finally focusing on host-pathogen dynamics. As well as this, epidemiology involves the idea of ‘One Health’ which is a popular concept within medicine considering the health of humans, animals and the environment as one. This has to be understood, considering the many different risk factors affecting disease in order to use the best approach for controlling disease spread and combining multiple pieces of knowledge inclusive of science and society. In this way, the emergence of disease can be tracked and controlled where possible, improving the way veterinary medicine deals with epidemiology.

Causality in Epidemiology – Dirk U. Pfeiffer

The next lecture considered the causes of disease, focusing on the knowledge needed on cause-and-effect relationships. He then talked about whether it was possible to eliminate causes and the effect this would have on the wider population, as well as the impact of multiple causes. He used lots of examples including the bTB badger culls. Here, badgers have been identified as a cause and therefore, efforts are being made to eliminate them. However, it only infected badgers which actually cause disease, so should they be screened? But it is the bacteria which are the underlying cause so should we be treating badgers with antibiotics? The deeper we go, the more complex the situation becomes and the decision has to made about at which level action should be taken.

Measures of Disease Frequency – Dirk U. Pfeiffer

The next lecture explained how it is important to quantify occurrence of disease in epidemiological research and this can be done by expressing the numbers of infected, diseased or dead animals as a proportion of the number of animals capable of experiencing infection, disease or death. This would calculate the probability, or risk, of populations becoming infected. Discrete data can be measured using ratios or proportions whilst continuous data can only be measured using rate. We could then take these measurements by considering incidence or survival time measures or prevalence measures. Prevalence is the probability of having the disease at a single point in time and therefore is not as useful as incidence measures which consider the effect of the disease across a period of time. After listening to this lecture, although a lot of it was not relevant for, I realised the importance of quantifying data, making it accessible and putting it into context to be compared to other diseases. Only then can we prioritise action which needs to be taken.

Epidemiological Studies – Julian Drewe

The final lecture was about the different types of study design used in epidemiology, and when each of them would be useful to use. The aim of using specific study designs is to enable the best method for defining cause and effect, considering the confounders (factors which may have an effect but may not be considered e.g. breed, age, gender) involved with the study and identifying the effects of individual factors, which can sometimes be hard to differentiate. Epidemiological studies may be descriptive (using case studies and surveys) or analytical. Analytical studies can be intervention/experimental, observational or systemic. Lots of very interesting case studies were highlighted during the lecture, with particular focus was on a survey of transmissible between baboons and humans in Cape Town, South Africa which was carried out by Julian Drewe. He explained that although it appeared that urban residential areas created the greatest risk for baboons having potential zoonoses, no true conclusions could be drawn because only 27 baboons were tested over 2 weeks. He was then able to relate to the importance of finding the balance in samples size, whatever study was being carried out.

I really enjoyed my day at the RVC, in this learning environment. During lunch I went into the small anatomy museum which was fantastic. I could have spent hours, even days in there, looking at the skeleton, bones and preserved body parts. I can’t believe that one day I might know what every one of these body parts is and what it does, and what to do when it goes wrong and I just can’t wait!

 

Thank you so much to my cousin, Felicity Wynne, who did so much to help me over the past week and also Emma Wombwell, who was brilliant in showing me everything she was doing for her PhD and even letting me get involved.

Institute of Zoology – 31st October 2013

Today I made my way across London to London Zoo once again. I was very excited because I knew that today we were going to be completing the analysis on the samples we began using on Monday. In order to do this, we were going to use Quantitative Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR). This has the purpose of amplifying and quantifying a targeted DNA molecule, hence why we had to extract the DNA initially. In this case, we were going to compare the quantity of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (the pathogen which causes chytrid) DNA in the samples to standards which have been determines according to the quantities of this DNA present in healthy amphibians. The steps were carried out as follows:

  1. Defrost samples of DNA which have previously been extracted from swabs.
  2. Dilute samples with distilled water
    • I really enjoyed this step because I got the chance to try a digital pipette. Previously we had used manual micropipettes, where you press the button on DSCN3281top to the point of first resistance to load the set volume, ensuring no air bubbles are drawn up, then dispel the substance by pressing the button all the way down. It was also important to change the tip between every sample to avoid contamination. However, the digital pipette allowed a larger volume to be loaded initially and with a press of a button, the correct amount was delivered into the tubes. This meant that we could proceed quickly without the need to load between each sample. Furthermore as only distilled water was being drawn into the tip, the same one could be used for every sample.
    • when diluting the sample it is important to ensure that it if fully mixed, therefore the pipette can be used to suck up then expel the solution several times after the water has been added.
  3. Create Master Mix
    • the master mix is a mixture of reagents needed to prevent inhibition during DSCN3287PCR. It consists of 5 chemicals – water, Taqman, Forward primer, Probe and Reverse primer. Although these names (apart from water) meant nothing to me, it did not prevent me appreciating the importance of this step, especially after seeing the precise volumes of each chemical which are added to the tube before being mixed on a vibrator.96-well plate set up
  4. Place Master Mix, samples, negative and standards in a 96-well PCR plate
    • every sample is run in duplicates to ensure reliability, as seen in the table on the right. A negative sample (neg) and 4DSCN3288 standard zoo spore samples (S100, S10, S1, S0.1) to which the DNA will be compared, acting as controls and calibrating the machine.
  5. 96-well plate sealed with plastic sheet, ensuring no air bubbles and mixed in centrifuge.
  6. Place well-plate in PCR machine, set up the computer and leave to run for 2 hours
    • during this process, the chytrid DNA will be highlighted with fluorescein so can be detected, creating a graph on which the results can be illustrated.

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Whilst the PCR machine was running, we Emma decided to take me pet shop swabbing, for this was the only part of the process which I had not seen. There were only a few pet DSCN3305shops left to swab around London, but nevertheless we boarded a tube and headed to Upper Norwood to find Crystal Palace Reptiles. After entering the shop and talking to the owners, explaining what we were doing and why we proceeded to be shown around all the amphibians in the shop. It was a fantastic shop with over 80 samples to be taken. We made our way around the tanks, wearing gloves which had to be changed between every vivarium to prevent contamination. For each amphibian we brushed off any dirt before wiping the swab over the stomach and legs. The number of wipes taken did not have to be exact as we were testing for presence of chytrid rather than amount. For every sample we had to record the number of DSCN3307the sample, the number of the vivarium, the number of animals in the vivarium, the name of the species, whether they had been wild caught or captive bred and their country of origin. This was all important information in investigating the correlations between positive cases of chytrid. Some of the most interesting species I saw included bufos (toads), a Hong Kong warty newt and a fire salamander. We also saw hairy frogs, which weren’t particularly hairy, but are also very rarely seen in the pet trade as they are very vicious and the shop owners had to handle them very cautiously to avoid being bitten. Furthermore, the pet shop had recently acquired five caecilians from Cameroon as these worm-like amphibians are becoming more popular within the pet trade. They were in a tank full of moist soil and we had to dig around to try and find them although only succeeded in finding two of the five. One was near the surface and moving very slowly. It also had a lesion on its back. These were all clinical signs indicating chytrid as the fungus infects skin cells, DSCN3306causing them to break down leaving lesions in the surface. These can very easily become infected, leading to more problems. In addition to this, the fact that the other caecilians couldn’t be found suggests that they could be dead as when caecilians die, they quickly decompose in the rich, moist soil. Chytrid has recently be found to kill caecilians and previously Emma had found that many samples from individuals imported from Cameroon had tested positive. This was very exciting and indicated that we might have found some very interesting results.

Whilst doing this, it opened up some good opportunities to discuss the pet trade. There are many positives and negatives to the pet trade, many of which are highly controversial. I had not previously considered this and I hope to look into it further.

 

I later found out that many of the animals, including the caecilians, from Crystal Palace Reptiles tested positive for chytrid, and many were also found to have tuberculosis which is untreatable in amphibians. As a result the shop owners donated all infected amphibians to the ZSL to aid further research. Unfortunately, the decision was made to euthanize all animals to culture chytrid, however for many of them this was best as they were suffering with little chance of full recovery considering the number of them and the possibilities for research involved.

Institute of Zoology – 30th October 2013

Since we were London, we got the opportunity to spend some time looking behind the scenes at the Natural History Museum with my cousin’s friend, Simon Maddock, who’s research is based at the museum. After looking around the offices where students are doing active research, we were shown into the huge area devoted to the expansive specimen collection, not normally seen by the public. This was outstanding. Simon told us bout the 8 floors filled with specimens and as I looked around just one room, filled to the brim with cabinets and shelves, I found it hard to estimate the vast number of specimens surrounding me.

As Simon was part of the herpetology department, the majority of what we saw consisted of amphibians, reptiles and fish. Every specimen had been fixed in formalin. Formalin, chemically known as formaldehyde, is used to fix specimens with the intention of inhibiting decay. It does this by covalent bonds between the proteins in the tissues, holding it in place. But because formalin is a known carcinogen, the specimens are generally preserved in ethanol. As Simon opened cabinet upon cabinet, we were able to see hundreds of fixed specimens in various sized jars according to the size of the animal. He told us that the oldest specimens dated from the early 1800s. It almost felt like we stepping into the past as we looked at the carefully hand written labels written on yellowing paper and imagined explorers returning from expeditions, with crates full of specimens with the possibility of uncovering species never seen before, creating the type specimen of that species – the first specimen of to be described. It was unfortunate that we could not spend all day going from cabinet to cabinet, peering in every jar to see an eerily suspended specimen staring back, but the lighting was monitored meaning that we could not stay for too long as the lights would automatically turn off. This ensured that the specimens were never exposed for too long to risk deterioration.

It was especially interesting to see specimens which had been stained, especially the skeletons, because this highlighted many features which don’t normally stand out for me, giving me a new perspective of seeing these specimens. I also began to understand how important these specimens can be in helping us to learn more about the natural world. Simon showed me several tuatara. I had never heard of tuatara before, but immediately, the specimens enabled me to readily learn about them by looking at the real things. This would not be possible if they had not been preserved in this way. The tuatara are reptile endemic to New Zealand, and although they closely resemble lizards, they actually belong to their own distinct order, classified according to their unique skulls which have an extra hole in them.

Some of my favourite specimens included the echidnas and platypuses we saw curled up in large tanks as well as the huge gorilla hands. Every crease, fold and crevasse had been preserved, leading me not only to consider the mind-blowing similarities to human hands of which we are so familiar, but also to see the strength in such limbs which spent their lives pulling an enormous gorilla from through from tree to tree. Another specimen which took my breath away was a chimpanzee foetus. It was almost fully formed, with only the facial features and fingertips awaiting further definition. Again, the similarities it shared with a human baby struck me, and I couldn’t help feeling moved to see a being so close to life, so lifeless.

After looking around these rooms full of cabinets, we moved into a room containing huge metal tanks containing preserved sharks. Although this would have been incredible to see, the tanks were so big that a mechanical hoist was needed simply to lift the lid to see inside. But most impressive was probably the giant squid which spanned the length of the room in an extremely long tank. I have seen dissections of giant squids on TV, but to truly imagine their size is impossible until you come face to face with the real thing. Finally we walked out through a room containing a large examination table where dissections of some of the specimens take place, allowing research to continually be done using this amazing collection.

We walked into the lift and were transported back into the museum, surrounded by tourists bustling around and enjoying themselves, unaware of the thousands, possibly millions, of animals in glass jars beneath them. I left with mixed emotions for it is impossible to ignore the fact that these animals are dead, taken from the wild and killed. But I believe that it is so important for us to learn as much as possible about the rich diversity in the world surrounding us. As human beings we have changed the world, not always for the better, and therefore we need continue changing the world, for the change cannot be halted in the state we have left it. The only way to ensure that this continual development conserves the treasures of Earth, is to understand, as best as possible, the impact that our actions will have. To do this, we need to understand the treasures themselves. Whether they may be living in zoos or dead in a museum they can teach us what we need to know to love and preserve their ancestors for many years to come.

Institute of Zoology – 29th October 2013

Today, my cousin got me the opportunity to look around the zoo. She often volunteers in the reptile house so she took me behind the scenes here. I met the Galapagas tortoises, chamaleons, frogs, turtles, tortoises and snakes, seeing those which are not on display to the public. These include the animals which need specialist conditions, such as peace and quiet, or to provide conditions for breeding. There was a room we were not allowed in because it contained some of the most poisonous snakes and frogs in the world. It was so exciting to realise that the zoo isn’t just there for the public but has a key role in active conservation as many of the species I saw are threatened, endangered or even on the brink of extinction with very few remaining in the wild. London Zoo are exploring breeding methods and helping to maintain the careful environments needed to help these species survive.

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After this, we visited the London Zoo Veterinary Department where we had arranged a tour with the head nurse, Matthew Rendle. Matt was brilliant and gave an excellent tour, opening up the opportunity for lots of questions. The level of biosecurity was almost extreme as we dipped our shoes in disinfectant before in. However, with so many different species of animals comes more diseases, many of which are exotic with very little known about them, so the containment of them becomes even more important, especially when the animals being dealt are so precious. First Matt showed us the huge filing cabinet where the medical records are kept. Every animals which comes to the zoo has a personal, unique medical record. In this all the information about it is kept, and if it undergoes a veterinary procedure, it is here that it is recorded. In the same room was a whiteboard, on which the inpatients were listed. Animals were generally in the hospital for one of three reasons; they were either in quarantine, being treated or simply had nowhere else to go.

Some of the kennels we were not allowed into, but we were shown into a few rooms and were able to see a few of the current inpatients. This a turtle with chelonian herpes virus. Although this virus had very little impact on the turtle, it was very dangerous for some other species of animal. This is similar to human cold sores which are life-threatening for some species of primates. However, the turtle was no longer shedding the infection so soon it going to be put back with the group it had come from. DSCN3260There was also a Zoe Imperial Pigeon which had suffered a wing injury. It was 26 years old and the only one they had at the zoo, therefore was very important. It was being trained to eat anti-inflammatories from from a yellow dish so could be fed specifically in the aviary and be put back as soon as possible, giving it the chance to use its wing again in a larger space, building up strength whilst still being treated. We were also shown several large tanks of caecilians. This was especially interesting because after Emma had swabbed them for chytrid as part of her PhD, they had been found positive. It had not previously been known that caecilians could be infected with chytrid and therefore was very exciting, although also worrying. There is no knowing how many different species of amphibians may be affected by chytrid. At the moment Matt was actively finding out the best methods of treating the caecilians. Many had already died because of the fungus, but there were some signs that the same medication used to bathe infected frogs was effective when added to the water tanks, but it was to find the optimum dosage and concentration.

Next we were shown into the certified rabies quarantine area. This was impressive, looking more like a prison cell than a kennel, with every effort being made to ensure that there was no possibility of rabies escaping the building. The doors had heavy bolts on them, there was special clothing which had to be worn including face masks and gloves and it was a necessity for all staff to be vaccinated against rabies. We were only allowed in because there were currently no animals in rabies quarantine. However, other animals in normal quarantine included a Prairie dog and a Burmese python. The Burmese python had just been spayed and was being kept in here where lots of space whilst recovering. Matt told us how hard it was to operate on snakes because they do not breathe when under anaesthetic so it is necessary to support them using artificial ventilation. Also in this building were some meerkats. The mother meerkat, Pipsqueak, had broken her leg and hip whilst heavily pregnant and had to undergo surgery just two weeks before giving birth. Because she had been taken away from the group to do this, she was no longer accepted into the gang. However, she had successfully given birth and to three, very cute, pups. As soon as they had been neutered, they were going to be moved to another zoo where they would hopefully be accepted into a new gang. Matt told us that the meerkats you see in zoos are much fluffier than they are in the wild as they have two coats of fur. As they live in a hot environment, in the deserts of Africa, they would normally shed the top coat. DSCN3261Meerkats also have a problem with high cholesterol which can lead to severe heart problems. This is something often encountered when they are kept in captivity and fed a high protein diet, such as rats. The zoo discovered this problem and now only feed them apple, carrot and dry adult cat food, which I was allowed to help hand feed Pipsqueak and her pups!

Finally we went back into the hospital and Matt showed us around the 2 operating theatres, filled with hundreds of bottles of medication, a table able to move with a load weighing half a tonne (the mass of an adult lion), an x-ray and ultrasound machine. He had selected out several x-ray images which we looked at and asked me what animals I thought they were. It took me a while to think about it but on the whole I had a general idea for most of them.
DSCN3274 The radiographs included an armadillo, which I initially thought was a tortoise before noticing that the shell was divided into segments. Matt pointed out that an armadillo only has a carapace (upper shell) whilst on an x-ray of a tortoise both the carapace and plastron (lower shell) would be identifiable. There were two images of animals with wings – a pigeon (the Zoe Imperial Pigeon currently in the kennels) and a bat. I was able to tell the difference mainly because of the fingers in the bat’s wings. However, Matt also showed me some key difference between birds and mammals including the teeth as well as the presence of a diaphragm only in the bat. I did not previously realise that birds and reptiles do not have diaphragms but instead have small lungs with lots air sacs. I found incredible but also bizarre to understand and would like to do more research into this. Other images included two frogs of very different sizes – the larger one was a Mountain Chicken (yes, it is a frog!). The last image was of the Burmese python which had been spayed, on the picture we could also see a whole rat inside the snake! Matt hadn’t realised that the snake hadn’t yet digested its last meal when the x-ray had been taken but it was a brilliant picture.DSCN3279

On the way home we fed mini cheddars to some friendly squirrels in Regent’s Park. A fun end to a fascinating day, though maybe not the ideal diet for a squirrel.

Institute of Zoology – 28th October 2013

This week, I have had the opportunity to do some work experience at the Institute of Zoology (IOZ) based at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) London Zoo with my cousin who is doing a masters with the RVC and ZSL.

We arrived at London Zoo, Regent’s Park, through the hurricane, tackling London transport in chaos. As we entered the Wellcome building I discovered that behind the scenes at London Zoo there is a huge amount of research taking place. It is an active academic environment with lots of laboratories and facilities devoted to discovery. The IOZ supports a vast array of people in completing PhDs and this was what I was going to see. We climbed several flights of stairs, passing a doorway through which the experiments on live animals took place. I was strictly not allowed to go in here. The experimentation using living animals is regulated intensely, meaning that the majority of research does not use live animals. We then reached the herpetology department, where the all the amphibian and reptile research was based. My cousin hadn’t yet started her own dissertation however, spent much of her time helping her friend, Emma, to complete her PhD. I was introduced to Emma Wombwell and she soon started telling me about the research she was doing into chytridiomycosis. Chytridiomycosis, often abbreviated to Chytrid, is an infectious disease of amphibians which is currently a huge impact upon amphibians populations, especially frogs, across the world. Emma was looking particularly at Chytrid in the pet trade. She had set out to visit every pet shop in the country, swabbing all their amphibians then bringing back the samples to analyse for traces of the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. She hoped to be able to track where the amphibians had been imported from, and hence shed light on the areas of the world in which chytrid was most severe so that further research could be focused here.

Today she was going to be extracting DNA from samples she had already collected, ready to be used for real-time PCR which would test for chytrid. She showed me how to use all the equipment in the laboratory and gave me a chance to try a few things out myself. The steps were carried out as follows:

  1. Organise 48 samples to be analysed. DSCN3229
    • with the huge number of samples she has collected, it is important that she carefully keeps track of which sample came from where. Every pet shop has a number, and every sample taken there also has a number. Here we were extracting DNA from swaps from pet shops 678, 84, 676, 453, 666 and 7002.
    • it is important to use 48 samples because most trays are arranged in rows of 12 and the centrifuge has room for 24 tubes.
  2. Place 0.03 – 0.04g of Zirconium/silica Microbeads into centrifuge tubes.
  3. Pipette 60µl Prepman ultra into tubes.
    • PrepMan® Ultra Sample Preparation Reagent has been developed to prepare DNA ready for PCR as it inactivates PCR inhibitors such as lipids.
  4. In a fume cupboard, cut off the tip of each swab, DSCN3232using a scalpel on a petri dish and place one swab in one, correctly numbered, tube.
    • it is advised to be done in a fume cupboard to avoid the spread of the fungus from the samples into the lab.
    • to avoid contamination it is important that a new scalpel blade is used for every swab, however the same petri dish can be used up to 4 times, as long as it is turned round betweeBead Beatern swabs so a different area is used.
  5. Homogenise the samples using a bead beater
    • the bead beater shakes the samples very quickly. This is why the Microbeads are important, because as the bang against the sample, they cause it to be broken up.DSCN3236
  6. Centrifuge the samples for 30 seconds.
  7. Homogenise again.
  8. Centrifuge again.
  9. Heat at 100°C for 10 minutes in a heat block.
    • this causes the DNA strands to separate by breaking the hydrogen bonds between base pairings.
  10. CoolDSCN3237 for at least 2 minutes
  11. Centrifuge for 3 minutes
    • this causes the heaviest organelles and other parts of the sample to be pushed to the bottom of the tube, leaving a supernatant containing the DNA.
  12. Pipette as much supernatant as possible out of the DSCN3238tubes, ensuring that the cotton from the swab and microbeads remain in the tube.
  13. Freeze samples until PCR.

I had a fantastic day today and really enjoyed learning about the processes involved in extracting DNA. It was brilliant to be able to apply the knowledge I have learnt at school about the structure of DNA to help me understand the steps which we were going through. I am looking forward to seeing the process completed using PCR, and uncovering some results.