Deniz Pirincci Ercan and Isabelle Glocke in the Crick's cafe.

Science date: yeast meets ancient DNA

In our latest scientific blind date, Deniz and Isabelle talk about explaining your research to other people, British weather, and dinosaur femurs.
  • Date created: 8 August 2019
  • News Type:
  • Feature

What are science dates?

Making connections is at the heart of the Crick, but in a building of 1500 people it's impossible to meet everyone.

In our scientific 'blind dates' series, we bring together two Crick researchers who probably wouldn't have otherwise crossed paths. After learning about each other's work over a coffee in the Crick cafe, they speak to us afterwards to share how it went.

Deniz Pirincci Ercan is a PhD student in Frank Uhlmann’s group at the Crick. She uses yeast cells to study the cell cycle progression. 

Isabelle Glocke is a senior laboratory research scientist in Pontus Skoglund's group. She’s currently working on setting up the new lab and their dedicated ancient DNA cleanroom.


Deniz Pirincci Ercan

Deniz Pirincci Ercan


What did you expect from the science date?

I didn’t really go in with any expectations. I don’t think that scientists make enough time for talking to people outside our own labs and I was looking forward to the opportunity to meet someone new! 

What did you know about Isabelle’s research beforehand?

I had a very basic understanding of ancient DNA, but mostly through hearing about it in the media. It’s something that appeals to people and can seem quite ‘cool’, but I didn’t know anything about the work behind it.

What did you talk about?

We covered all the basics - who we are, what we do, where we're from originally. We even talked about the world-famous British "summers" and how much we'd prefer a bit more sunshine. 

Isabelle only joined the Crick a few months ago so we also talked about getting used to a new country at the same time as getting used to a new work environment. 

Any surprises?

I work on cell cycle progression and when I mentioned the specific complex that I work on, I was initially a bit surprised that she had never heard of it. It reminded me that even though we all work in the same building, there’s an enormous range of things happening at the Crick and it is possible that the project that I’ve been spending all my time on for the last few years might not be on someone else’s radar at all.

Did you pick up any tips?

It was interesting to hear about Isabelle’s progression from her PhD to her laboratory scientist job at the Crick. She’s the only person in her group doing wet lab work, working to set up their clean room, as well as doing a lot of lab management. It sounds so different to being a PhD student, where you’re very focused on one project.

Did anything get lost in translation?

Not at all! Although we did talk a bit about misconceptions about our work. Isabelle explained that people underestimate how hard it is to get usable DNA from ancient samples. Even if archaeologists have found a relatively intact bone or tooth, ancient DNA has to be preserved so well, and is so vulnerable to contamination, that it’s often really unlikely that most samples will even be usable.

Can you imagine collaborating in the future?

Our work doesn’t just focus on completely different areas of science, it focuses on things that are hundreds of thousands of years apart, so probably not! It was great to meet someone new though, and interesting to add some context to the headlines about ancient DNA.

Isabelle Glocke

Isabelle Glocke.


What did you expect from the science date?

I was really just looking forward to meeting someone that I wouldn’t have met on my own. Even though it’s quite easy to bump in to people around the Crick, there are always going to be people who you just wouldn’t come across normally.

What did you know about Deniz’s area of research beforehand?

I knew the absolute basics from studying biology at university, but that was about it.

What did you talk about?

We covered quite a lot of ground – we talked a lot about our work and how we ended up at the Crick, as well as what it’s like living in London and how often we travel back home.

I liked talking to her about how our research is perceived by other people. People have generally heard of ancient DNA and have an idea of what it means, even if they think that it sounds like something out of science fiction.

Deniz works on yeast and we agreed that telling someone that you work on ancient DNA samples gets a very different reaction than telling people that you work on yeast!

However, Deniz did remind me that yeast can surprise people as well. Most people can’t wrap their head around the fact that cells will always behave in certain ways, whether they’re a lone yeast cell or part of a large organism.

Any surprises?

Honestly, how close she lives to the Crick! I think she’s the only person I know that lives within walking distance. 

Did you pick up any tips?

Deniz told me that she takes part in the Crick’s public Meet a Scientist sessions, and brings along yeast samples for people to look at through microscopes. It sounds really fun and sometimes talking to people who aren’t scientists about your research reminds you that your day job is actually really cool.

Did anything get lost in translation?

Not really. When I first mentioned to Deniz that I work on ancient DNA, she mentioned the dinosaur femur that was found in France recently. Unfortunately, I had to burst her bubble a bit and explain that it’s not the kind of sample I work with because it’s too old to have any DNA preserved.

Can you imagine collaborating in the future?

Unfortunately not. Our fields are so, so different. It was great to find out more about her work but I don’t think that collaborating would be helpful for either of us!

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