Katie Kaugars is a Post-bacc researcher at the National Institutes of Health in the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism. Katie is studying the genetics behind alcoholism, and how genes can contribute to the development of alcoholism. Katie works in the Laboratory of Behavioral & Genomic Neuroscience.
0:17 I'm Katie Kaugars and I'm at the National Institute
0:21 on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
0:25 I help out with the imaging and microscopy
0:28 and then I also work on genotyping. So I grew up
0:33 in Richmond, Virginia and as a kid
0:37 I was not great at math and science...
0:42 or like reading. I just couldn't understand it.
0:45 But in middle school I really started falling in love with science because I
0:51 realize that I could
0:52 explain things around the world that I'd never...
0:56 that I'd never known why they happen...like why
0:59 water boils. Like where the air comes from. You know when it bubbles out of the water
1:04 because you know there's no gas when you look at it. And then all of a sudden it
1:07 it gets hot enough
1:09 and the bubbles start going. And so that's when I really started to fall in love with science...
1:13 when I realized that science could
1:15 tell me why those things are happening and then help me predict when they would
1:20 to what extent. And I started research like kind of on a whim...
1:24 and I really fell in love with it...I really liked it because it's something different
1:28 every day.
1:30 It fits within a larger context of humans understanding the way the world is
1:34 and the way our bodies work. We're looking at alcoholism and alcohol abuse.
1:39 There's a lot of factors that go into that that people don't understand just yet and
1:44 so there's the huge nature versus nurture debate.
1:47 And so we're kind of more on the nature side of things.
1:50 What we're looking at right now is kind of like the genetic
1:54 background of alcoholism and how genes can contribute to
1:59 alcoholism developing. We're using a technique which is very advanced
2:04 very exciting, that uses lasers to control behavior.
2:08 We basically implant a light sensitive protein
2:13 neurons, which are brain cells essentially. And so by turning on a light
2:17 we can...kind of like a light switch actually...turn the neurons on and off.
2:21 And so this is a blue frequency. We also have a green,
2:26 which can activate a different channel and kind of produce a different behavioral response.
2:31 For microscopy we use the fluorescent microscopy, which is basically
2:37 glow in the dark. Like when you turn off the lights in one in those room with
2:41 the stars on the ceiling. That's kind of like the same thing
2:45 because it glows without the light actually being on.
2:48 And so the molecules that we have that we're attaching
2:52 are for fluorescent. And so when they attach to these proteins of interests...you know
2:56 the proteins that we want...
2:57 they can glow and so we can tell where these proteins are
3:01 and what number. For genotyping I use
3:05 a technique called polymerase chain reaction.
3:16 The first part of polymerase chain reaction, which is the way that you
3:20 can multiply DNAs, so you can tell if there's a gene of interest in a sample.
3:24 Typically you have to know
3:26 whether the gene of interest is there or not.
3:30 Within any given test subjects...as you start with
3:33 with the thermal cycler...which is over here actually. And so this machine
3:37 goes through many different temperatures, which helps
3:41 with the DNA amplification. After that
3:44 reaction is completed, then we use it in a gel...
3:48 because DNA is actually negatively charged.
3:52 And so I you run electricity, the DNA will naturally
3:57 go towards the positive charge. The way that
4:01 DNA is separated on this gel is by size. The smaller pieces of DNA
4:06 move a bit faster in the gel. And the larger pieces
4:10 DNA take a longer time. And so the larger pieces of DNA
4:14 are going to be closer to where the samples started. This one...
4:19 this gene actually that I'm testing for is a fluorescent gene that's been inserted
4:24 into the
4:25 neurons. And so this is determining whether
4:28 their neurons will be fluorescent or not.
4:34 We know so little about how the brain
4:38 responds to addiction
4:39 and what changes in the brain can lead to addiction. And I think understanding
4:44 this underlying processes are going to help us to
4:48 eventually help people overcome addiction, because
4:51 addiction it's really a disease. Every day you're kind of learning
4:55 that we don't know this...but it could actually really help humans if we did.
5:00 And so that's where at our jobs as scientists are is to
5:04 help people. People aren't just going to hand you things generally...
5:09 Like you know that's what happens in like TV shows, in the
5:11 movies...like somebody's discovered all of a sudden just...you know walking down
5:14 street, but that's...
5:15 that's how life is. Nobody would have given me a position in a research lab
5:19 just being like, "She looks like she could be good at research."
5:23 I had to go to my professor
5:25 and ask, "Hey are there any positions in your lab? Or do you know of any labs that do have
5:31 because I'm very interested?" Being your own advocate is a very important thing to
5:35 learn in any
5:36 career path and it's definitely helped me in science so far.