I still can’t quite believe that I finished grad school before several of my Girls (my support network for the 7 years of graduate school). Fortunately, they aren’t far behind, and since the end is clearly in sight, I thought it was appropriate to get a head start on graduation quilts. This quilt is for Argenta, based on an assay that she ran many, many times in graduate school. I hope that every time she sees the quilt she is reminded of her triumphs – triumph over this assay and triumph over graduate school. It’s my reminder to her of how awesome she is, for the scientist that she has become, the person that she has become, and the friend that she always has been. (I’m making all my Girls quilts to celebrate their graduations, so check out Erica’s Ninja Cells Quilt and Ellen’s Hst3 Degron Quilt for the first in the series.)
I don’t remember all of the details of the story behind this particular gel, but it was early on in her graduate school career and Argenta had gotten hung up figuring out how to fit every possible experimental condition and corresponding control into a single overwhelming experiment. And it was too much and it wasn’t going very well. At some point, her boss told her to “Just go make a pretty gel.” And that’s exactly what she did – she focused on perfecting the technique and learned to make beautiful splicing gels. And once she mastered the technique, the useable data followed quickly behind.
RNA splicing is a process that happens frequently in eukaryotes. (Remember the central dogma everyone? DNA gets transcribed into RNA gets translated into proteins. DNA is how our genes are stored and proteins are what perform (most) functions in cells.) Splicing is a process that takes a newly transcribed RNA and turns it into a form that can be translated into a protein (by removing introns and leaving only exons). This is a complicated process and is what Argenta studied in graduate school (some of which work was recently published in the journal RNA). An RNA splicing gel is a way of visualizing the step-by-step process of splicing as each intermediate in the process can be visualized as a different band on the same gel.
I picked the color palette for this quilt based on the backing fabric that I had. I don’t know why, but it reminded me of Argenta. The off-white channels between lanes were a Kona solid. The green bands were all old stash fabrics that once belonged to my Grandmother. The background of the lanes I bought new for the quilt because I loved that it was in two colorways that so nicely coordinated with my palette so that I could distinguish easily between lane and loading well on the quilt and I loved the fact that it reminded me of microtubule bundles (a cellular component not related to splicing but cool nonetheless). I quilted the quilt very simply on my sewing machine, using straight lines to stitch around each band and to stitch in the ditch along the length of each lane. I was a tiny bit disappointed when I finished the quilt top, thinking it was a little bland, but the moment that I added the narrow dark green binding it all came together which was such a great surprise! I definitely learn something new with each quilt and this was a big lesson in how important a binding can be!
I gave the quilt to Argenta when she was in her lab. She was very excited and immediately showed it to her labmates. I had a blast watching the exact same conversation play out several times. Argenta would say “Look at this quilt my friend Erin made.” Their first response would be “Oh that’s neat. What a great friend you have. That’s so nice of her.” And then Argenta would say “No guys, LOOK at this quilt that Erin made. Think RNA.” And I could watch lightbulbs go on over people’s heads “OMG it’s an RNA splicing gel. That is SO COOL!” I loved watching their excitement :)