Kerstin Zechner

Favourite Thing: Knowing that you are probably the first person to have discovered something, no matter how small that discovery is.

Me and my work

Hi, I’m Kerstin and I look at how genes, which are encoded in DNA, are copied into another molecule known as RNA and how this process in kept under control in worms.

Hi, I’m Kerstin and I’m 26 years old. I’m originally from Austria and I moved to the UK six and a half years ago to start uni. At the moment I’m doing a doctorate degree in Oxford. I do research in a lab in the Department of Biochemistry. Biochemistry covers all processes that go on in cells.

I look at how genes, which are encoded in DNA, are copied into another molecule known as RNA, in a process known as transcription. This RNA then acts as a blueprint, which is used to build a protein. This is how you get a protein from a gene.

DNA consists of a stretch of four different building blocks which are defined by the letters A, T, G and C. These letters can be arranged in any number of ways to form different sequences. Each gene has a different arrangement of the four letters (A, T, G and C) and because of this each gene and the RNA directly copied from the gene will have a different “code”. This code on the RNA will act as a unique blueprint for building a specific protein.

I focus on how transcription is stopped after a full gene is copied to RNA. I look at this in small worms known as C. elegans. If this process didn’t stop, many genes would be copied at the same time and this definitely wouldn’t be good for the worms. I hope to discover more about how stopping transcription works in worms and then apply this knowledge to the same process in humans.

My Typical Day

I start work in the lab at around 10am, do experiments until approximately 7pm and I have one or two coffee breaks and a lunch break inbetween.

I usually start work in the lab between 9-10am. First, I look over what I have planned for the day, if I’ve booked all the equipment I need and if we have all the reagents I require. I check up on the worms to see how they are growing and if they are healthy. I’ll then do experiments in the lab until about 1pm. Some experiments can be great fun, while in other cases I can spend an hour making reagents. I have a short lunch and then continue with work at about 1.30-2pm. Throughout the day there is usually time for coffee breaks and time to chat with colleagues and friends; sometimes about work, other times about the X-factor, which I love (it’s a bit sad, I know!). I tend to finish work between 6-7pm. At the end of the day I write down my plan for the next day and read some scientific articles to get ideas for experiments. The best thing about working in a lab as a PhD student is that you can work very flexible hours, which means you can more or less decide how to structure your day.

What I'd do with the money

I’d use the money to invite college and/or middle school students to come and look around the labs and ask loads of questions about science.

I’d invite a class of students from a middle school or college to come look around the Laboratory of Genes and Development (which is the part of the Biochemistry Department I work in), to find out more about what scientists do. At the end of the “tour” they would get the opportunity to meet with resesarchers, have some snacks and drinks and ask them questions. So I’d basically try to set up a mini “I’m a Scientist” in real life (which would be scary, but definitely worth it!).

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Happy, open, weird

Who is your favourite singer or band?

At the moment Vampire Weekend, but it used to be The Corrs (they were cool 10 years ago!)

What is the most fun thing you've done?

A three week road trip from Vancouver to San Francisco.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

To have a paper published in a good journal, an Audi R8, to always have good friends around

What did you want to be after you left school?

A writer.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Yes, mainly for being too late. I cried once and made the teacher feel really guilty.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

To make a worm glow green and red at the same time.

Tell us a joke.

What do you call it when worms take over the world? Global Worming…