Trainee at GlycoNet: Alex Anderson

Where do you work, what is your position and who is your advisor?

I am a PhD student from Dr. Anothony Clarke’s lab in the Department of Cellular & Molecular Biology at the University of Guelph. 

Tell me about the project you’re working on.

My work focuses on the role of glycans (sometimes called sugars or carbohydrates) on bacterial cell wall.

When bacteria infect a host, they can alter the structures of the glycans on their cell wall to escape the host’s immune system. We want to understand how bacteria change their cell wall sugars, and design molecules to stop them from building these “difficult” cell walls that get away from our immune system. We hope these molecules can successfully disarm bacteria from building difficult cell walls, and thus fighting off bacterial infections more effectively.

Tell me an “Eureka!” moment in the lab.

I have many but here is one that pops up in my mind. I was working for a long time to find out the gene responsible for a particular phenotype. I was very, very stuck. There was no visible difference between my wild-type cell line and my knockout cell line!

Most people would stop there and look for other candidate genes. But, against my better judgement, I insisted that this was the gene. One day, I accidentally dropped the tube containing the cell line. When I picked the tube up, I suddenly realized that the phenotypic difference was how tough the cells were to break up. That “aha” moment really stuck in my mind, and since then, I got an (admittedly) strange habit of whacking all of my samples on the bench just to be sure I’m not missing anything!

Use one word to describe a main take-away from the Canadian Glycomics Symposium. 

Networking. I think it’s great to spend lots of time around like-minded trainees and share experiences. After all, we are the next generation of Canadian glycoscientists.

What do you do when you are not in the lab?

I am an avid home cook, so you can usually find me cooking a new recipe or an old favorite dish in the kitchen.

How do you fight procrastination and stress?

I find setting and adhering to a schedule helps me be honest with myself and remind me of my progress (or lack thereof). To deal with stress, I turn to the gym – there’s nothing that lets off steam quite like an intense workout with your favorite playlist turned all the way up!

If you had to choose a completely different career path, what would it be?

Like I said above, I love cooking, so I imagine I would have found my way into a kitchen one way or another.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Hopefully, done my PhD! All jokes aside, I love it at the bench, and as long as my career keeps me around the lab, I’ll be satisfied.

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