Spotlight on Jay Nelson, animal research officer

Jay Nelson has worked in the Crick's biological research facility since February 2017. We sat down with her to find out more about working with frogs and fish, and why a theatre background can have some unexpected benefits when working in animal research.
Jay Nelson.

What's your role at the Crick?

I'm a research officer in the Crick’s biological research facility (BRF). I work with all the aquatic animals that are used in research at the Crick, which at the moment are zebrafish (Danio rerio) and African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis).

Up until recently I’ve mainly worked on feeding and cleaning the animals, as well as performing regular health checks and keeping our records up to date. But I received my Home Office personal license in August, and since then have been trained in inducing superovulation in the frogs, and fin clipping for the fish.

I find having the ability to perform these procedures very interesting, as it makes my job a lot more engaging, and I am enjoying taking on a bit more responsibility within the team and helping contribute to the science at the Crick. 

What did you do before joining the Crick?

I actually studied performing arts before I started working here. There’s probably no overlap between the two worlds, but maybe my stage background has made my tours of the facility a bit better!

We do get quite a few people coming in from around the Crick to see the aquatics unit. Although the rodent units all look fairly similar, as do the breeding units, aquatics is a whole new kettle of fish!

With our new development, we’ve started to give the fish analgesics before and after the procedure, while continuing to give them anaesthetic during the procedure itself. 

What has been a recent highlight of your work?

The aquatics team, alongside the Crick vet, have recently been working on developing a new method for fin clipping. Fin clipping involves taking small pieces from the zebrafish tails so that researchers can sequence their genomes and confirm that the fish has all the genes required for research. It’s a very standard procedure.

With our new development, we’ve started to give the fish analgesics before and after the procedure, while continuing to give them anaesthetic during the procedure itself. Using painkillers before and after the procedure is ground-breaking in our field and the Home Office is going to make it compulsory soon.

We’ve had to carefully check whether adding the painkillers to the tanks has any unintended side effects, especially when they’re going to be used in very precise research, but our trials indicated that it's safe for the work being done at the Crick.

This change to the procedure improves the fish’s welfare, which is something we are always trying to do, as we incorporate the ‘3Rs’ principles of animal research (always aiming to reduce and refine our use of animals, and replace them where possible) into our work in the BRF. 

What’s your favourite part of your work?

Depending on the animal, you have the opportunity to be quite hands on and interactive with them.

As I love all animals I really appreciate working in a facility where caring for them is my number one priority. Depending on the animal, you have the opportunity to be quite hands on and interactive with them, and this is something that I really enjoy. 

One of my favourite things to do is to keep an eye on the freshly laid fish eggs and their development with a microscope. They can develop quickly between the first 24 and 48 hours, and you can see the heart develop and start to pump the blood around the body.

How much are you in touch with the research groups who work with the animals?

There are only two groups at the Crick that work with frogs and I probably see someone from those groups about once a week when they come down to pick up the frog eggs. We try to chat a bit about what they’re working on and why they need the different samples.

Interested in spending some more time with the frogs?

The frogs in the aquatics unit are used by two groups at the Crick. Hear from some of the members of our Developmental Biology Laboratory on what they're working on at the moment, and why Xenopus are so well-suited for their work.

Read the article

As I mainly work with zebrafish now, I am in touch with those researchers on a weekly basis, as this species is used more regularly (and by more users) than the Xenopus.

And what else do you do at the Crick when you’re not in among the frogs and the fish?

I run the Crick’s board gaming club. It’s my main chance to meet people other than my colleagues in the biological research facility and the scientists that come down to work with the frogs and fish. Maybe unsurprisingly, board games bring together a pretty diverse group of people from all across the building!

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