Adventures in Molecular Diagnostics!

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Zoo InternQuest is a career exploration program for high school students. For more information see the Zoo InternQuest Journals. For more photos see the Zoo InternQuest Photo Journal.


There are numerous veterinarians working for the Zoological Society of San Diego. This week, on our visit to the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, we got to meet one of these extraordinary vets. Dr. Mark Schrenzel (pictured) is a Research Veterinary Pathologist who has spent years working to diagnose the diseases that occasionally affect the animal residents of the Zoo and Park. Today, we were privileged enough to learn a bit about what a Research Veterinary Pathologist does.
Interestingly, Dr. Schrenzel spent a total of 15 years studying to become the doctor that he is today: four years for his Bachelor’s degree, another four years for his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, three years for a specialty degree in pathology, and yet another four years for his PhD. Dr. Schrenzel made it clear that a career in Veterinary Pathology requires lots of time and dedication to acquire.

Dr. Schrenzel’s dedication to his work became clear when he explained how he, as a research veterinary pathologist, tested DNA samples from various deceased animals to try and learn what diseases had caused their deaths. He explained to us about the Polymerase Chain Reaction or PCR method that pathologists use to exponentially duplicate a particular gene that they wish to study. The explanation was both incredibly involved and incredibly fascinating; and Dr. Schrenzel explained it in very easy-to-understand terms.

With fresh knowledge of PCR under our belts, we headed downstairs to Dr. Schrenzel’s laboratory where we were able to assist in loading samples into an agarose gel for electrophoresis, another procedure commonly used by in molecular diagnostics. We used incredibly expensive pipettes to move mere microliters of PCR product into the minuscule wells in the gel. The exactness of the procedure made us all painfully aware of how unsteady the human hand can be. We all left Dr. Schrenzel’s lab with a profound respect for veterinary pathologists everywhere. Using pipettes is hard!

Stephen, Careers Team

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