The past summer I travelled to Switzerland to work at the Institute of Virology and Immunology. I wanted to spend my summer doing research on infectious diseases though I had never work in a microbiology lab before and had little experience with basic laboratory techniques. I began speaking with multiple professors about potential projects and decided to begin working with Dr. MacLachlan on setting up a project at the CDC. When this project failed to workout, he recommended the Institute.
The Institute of Virology and Immunology is a biocontainment lab that works in conjunction with the University of Bern. This means that the lab works on diseases that are considered dangerous or highly contagious and as a result the facility uses site-only scrubs and requires workers to shower before leaving. However, the majority of the diseases being researched are only infective to agricultural animals such as Bluetongue virus and Foot-and-Mouth disease. I felt very lucky to have the opportunity to work in this lab because first, there are few in the world that run work with such contagious diseases and even fewer that would allow a student to come in to perform a research project.
At the institute, I began my project on avian influenza working under the guidance of a post-doctoral researcher. A wild mallard strain of avian influenza was passaged through chickens several times. I sequenced the genome of the passaged viruses and we worked together looking at which mutations allowed the virus to adapt from mallards to chickens. Some other tasks I performed were creating recombinant virus strains for later experiments, immunofluorescence detection tests and virus culture in embryonated chicken eggs. On top of performing my own research work, I participated in topic discussions and project presentations by the PhD students working at the lab.
During my weekends in Switzerland, I took my chance to travel and see the country. Thanks to the very well-run train system in Switzerland, I was able to travel around fairly easily. From Broc and Gruyeres for chocolate and cheese, to the glacier in Engelberg and Zurifest in Zurich, I had a really great time exploring the natural and cultural sites that make Switzerland an amazing country to travel to.
I cannot thank enough the people who allowed me to make this trip. My thanks to Dr. MacLachlan and Dr. Griot for setting up my project and allowing me to work at IVI and Dr. Thomas Ludersdorfer for guiding me through my work. And of course, a special thank you to the people behind the international externship scholarship for making this trip possible.