Who: Imie Nieuwland MSc Biology
What: Internship on malaria research
Where: University of Melbourne
‘In Melbourne I do research on the parasites that cause malaria. I got onto this project because my mother referred me to a friend of hers in Melbourne, Professor Leann Tilley. Her research sounded very interesting and in the end I sent her an email to ask if I could do a research project. She responded very enthusiastically. And a year later, here I am in Melbourne.
In my project I breed malaria parasites to get gametocytes. This is the sexual phase in the life cycle of the parasite. In this phase they can be ingested by malaria mosquitoes, causing them to spread further. In order to reach this stage, they develop from a round, flexible shape to a long, rigid one. I look specifically at the change in shape of the cell nucleus. Given that gametocytes are crucial for the transmission of malaria, more insight into their development could help in developing strategies for stopping the transmission of malaria parasites.
Working with malaria parasites can be quite intensive. The parasites grow in red blood cells, and get growth medium to provide them with nutrients. We call the maintenance of the parasites tissue culture. These cultures have to be split regularly to make sure the number of parasites doesn’t get too high. It is best to give them new medium every day, so I come in on at least one day of the weekend. I usually work on tissue culture in the mornings and in the afternoon on experiments such as preparing microscope slides. Working with parasites can be dangerous too. We work in flow cabinets, wear special lab coats and use a lot of ethanol and bleach. Sharp objects are banned so that in theory no infection can take place.
Working in the lab here is fairly similar to in the Netherlands. Although a lot of people here come in at the weekend too, and work late hours. I’m not particularly into that. The main thing I notice is that Australia is a very bureaucratic country. Everything has to be done according to rules and forms. In my first week I did nothing but paperwork, compulsory introductions and online training courses. At the same time, in some ways they are behind the times here. When I arrived, for instance, there was a referendum going on about whether to legalize homosexual marriage. I feel like we take that for granted in the Netherlands. It was quite funny for me when I realized that is not the case here at all. There are even a lot of people outside the cities who are still against gay marriage.
Melbourne is a lot bigger than Wageningen; there is always something to do and there’s a club or society for everyone. I started playing cycle polo, a kind of hockey played on bikes. Three colleagues of mine play often and they asked if I wanted to go along. Now I train every week and I have already taken part in a tournament. I also spend a lot of time climbing at the climbing wall. I stayed in Australia over Christmas and New Year. I spent Christmas with other international students. So no Dutch winter for me, but a few surfing lessons instead!’