Mandy Hunter has been working as an Laboratory Technician at ABS, Global. We asked Mandy some questions about her work and her training.
What biotechnology program did you attend?
What degree/certificate are you working towards?
What do you do for your job?
Semen is collected from bulls for use in artificial insemination. In the main processing lab, we'll receive the samples and prepare it for extension. One collection can be extended into hundreds or thousands of insemination straws. Then samples are checked for quality in many different ways. Next, the semen is extended with a solution and packaged into straws. After that, the straws are frozen in liquid nitrogen. The next day, samples from each bull are unfrozen and again checked for quality.
What are some techniques that you commonly use?
Pipetting, spectrophotometry, metrology and calibration, morphology, solution preparation, microscopy, autoclaving, documentation.
Please describe what you do in an average day.
Semen is sent to us from the barns in a pneumatic tube, just like at the bank. When I first saw it, I thought it looked very Jetsons-y! The samples are weighed and go through a process of preparation for extension. A drop is checked on a microscope slide for motility and given a subjective motility score and then the sample is checked on a spectrophotometer for concentration before being stored in a cold room. In the cold room, lab techs are preparing the extension solution and combining the samples with the solution. This is very fast-paced pouring and measuring. Next, a sample is taken for morphology and the physical appearance of the cells is checked before the OK for packaging is given. While all this is going on, other lab techs are printing and cooling the straws the semen will be packaged in, preparing the machines that fill the straws, and preparing the racks the straws are packaged in for freezing. Everything has to be cooled before it can be used and great attention is paid to making sure the right semen is packaged under the right bull's name. Next, everyone works in another cold room, filling the straws with the extended semen and packaging the straws in racks. All of this then gets frozen in liquid nitrogen. The next day, a lab tech will take a couple frozen straws from each bull, thaw them, and again check the sample for motility.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in a biotech career?
Set aside any squeamishness you may be harboring. I've rooted around in herbivore feces for organisms that produce enzymes that break down cellulose. I've collected semen from bulls. I've encountered the fabulous stench that accompanies E. coli.
But don't let that put you off. Biotech is a ridiculously diverse field with so many applications. You will be able to apply a biotech degree to a wide range of fields, from agriculture to biofuels, to genomics, to drugs and medicine discovery and production, to quality control. Really, this list goes on and on.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
Also, I wanted to say how much I appreciate ABS's egalitarian atmosphere. A lab tech can find themselves helping out in the wash room one day, working in QC the next day, and working in the main lab the day after that. A tech can find themselves helping out with some of the more mundane tasks, like straw printing, in the morning and then spend the afternoon in morphology. Besides the great cross-training and experience, I appreciate that no one's "just a dishwasher" on the team. Everyone shares in the simple tasks and everyone shares in the more challenging work, and that's a very appealing environment.