University Reflection

At camp, I met many people from areas around the country and even around the world. I feel like we all have something to learn from each other, and that doesn’t always have to be based on academics. Meeting new people just adds a whole new dimension to our lives, and my camp-filled summer has taught me that. I’m going to be honest — I did meet some unpleasant individuals in my class, but they were far outnumbered by the great people I met. Through the people, the classes, and the new experience of living (sans parents), I have learned lessons that will guide me through the last two years of high school, into college, and beyond.

Main Green (Brown University)

I’m not very picky when it comes to the physical layout of a school, but it was good to experience two different kinds of campuses this summer, a private and public university. I can honestly say that I felt very comfortable in both. The open campus of Brown, where the university buildings blended into the city, gave us the freedom to walk anywhere and everywhere. Many buildings were detached from the main campus, opening the university to the outside world. For example, I would walk through town to get to my class, allowing me to easily pick up a coffee or a snack on the way.

The University of Maryland, on the other hand, had a defined campus with clear campus borders. It gave it a restricted feeling at first, but upon entering the campus itself, I was awed at the size of the campus, which had massive buildings, sports fields, and even its own farm. Despite the size, it was very well maintained and the environment felt very safe, since there were always students, teachers, and visitors walking around. Although summer students were restricted to campus only, the opportunities to have fun on campus were endless.

Individual Dorm (Brown)

Living at a university taught me to be inspired, be organized, and be happy. Most importantly, your priority should be taking care of yourself. A university lifestyle requires independence and self-motivation, both in learning and everyday affairs. Dorms are a bit difficult to get used to, especially the showers (which are disasters compared to home). Completing homework is a must — professors (even summer course lecturers) will not have much sympathy when it comes to understanding material that was covered the week before. One of my professors told me that being at the top of the class in your high school doesn’t guarantee you won’t struggle in college: arrogance is never welcome. If you cannot figure out something yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help ASAP!

Roommates (University of Maryland)

All in all, I can happily say that I enjoyed these valuable two months of summer, and I look forward to what the last week of summer has in store for me.

Making Bacteria Glow

Bacteria are used in the lab because they are inexpensive and easy to take care of. E. coli (nonpathogenic strain) is a common strain of bacteria that you may encounter in experiments, especially those dealing with transformation. In addition to their main chromosomal DNA, bacteria have another (physically separate) circular piece of DNA known as the plasmid. The plasmid is often manipulated in the lab (using various restriction enzymes) so that the bacteria is able to take up the modified plasmid and become a host organism that can produce the desired protein.

When learning about plasmids and bacterial transformation, this experiment is one of the most common experiments that done in the lab as an educational tool. If you’re interested in biotechnology or any biological laboratory science, you’ll definitely come across this experiment. (I’ve done it three times already!)

Results

Transformed E. coli under UV light

Transformed E. coli under UV light

Since future generations of bacteria will also express the inserted gene, this method is usually the first part of the upstream process in biopharmaceutical production. For example, if you wanted to collect a large amount of the GFP protein, you would use this to collect bacteria that produced GFP, and then use bioreactors to grow even larger cultures of it.

National Ice Cream Day

7.17.16 // Happy National Ice Cream Day! (belated celebration!)

I love ice cream, and I’m sure all of you do too. Whether its soft or hard serve, I enjoy it all, especially in this year’s searing summer heat. My favorites are: caramel cone, mint chocolate chip, coffee (any variety or spin-off of it).

At the University of Maryland, I had the pleasure of purchasing unique flavors of ice cream from the Maryland Dairy. Since UMD was originally founded as an agricultural college, it still uses its farmland and barns to grow crops and take care of a variety of farm animals (cows, goats, horses, etc.). The ice cream from the Maryland Dairy is made from the milk of UMD’s own cows! The texture and fresh taste of the ice cream here is amazing. 11/10 will come back for another scoop! Honestly, I wish everyday was ice cream day.

While ice cream is a great treat, don’t forget to stay hydrated too! Enjoy the rest of the summer!

Planarians, eternally cute worms

Growth and development, including cell division and differentiation, are key parts of biology. Related to development and cell activity are the topics of healing and regeneration. We, as mammals, have the ability to heal most wounds with scarring, but humans can only regenerate our fingertips and liver. If we were faced with more substantial losses, there would be trouble. But planaria have no need to fear!

Planaria are flatworms of the phylum Platyhelminthes. Like all flatworms, they are acoelomates (have no body cavity). They live naturally as scavengers and predators to small protists at the bottom of ponds or streams and are sensitive to pollution and can only live in clean waters. In the lab, they live in petri dishes filled with spring water (Poland Spring® works nicely). Planaria asexually reproduce through fission, but as hermaphrodites, they are capable of sexual reproduction (it is very rare).

The two “eyes” on their triangular head gives planaria their adorable cross-eyed look. They are light-sensitive eyespots that help guide planarians away from light (negative phototaxis). They also use chemoreceptors on ciliated auricles, the ear-like extensions of the head. They have two ventrolateral and many transverse nerve cords that detect external stimuli and one muscular pharynx where food enters and waste leaves.

The reason planaria are so extensively used in the lab is due to their insane regenerative ability. Cut a planarian in half, and in a few weeks, you’ll have two healthy planaria (but abnormal regeneration is possible). In fact, a planarian can regenerate from as small as 1/270th of a body piece. Thus, a planarian seems to be immortal because it has an indefinite ability to regenerate its cells. This ability is due to neoblasts (totipotent adult somatic cells) that are able to replace cells during regeneration and wound healing with the formation of the blastema, an accumulation of neoblasts. Polarity and other factors that guide the regeneration process have been investigated and debated for years. 

For those that are concerned, planaria naturally use this regeneration process during reproduction (fission), where they tightly adhere their posterior end to a substrate and pull forward to rip themselves in two. While mutilation of an animal should never be taken lightly, scientists are doing nothing more than what the animal does to itself.

For more information: basic facts about planaria, mini documentary

A Study in Yeast

Yeast Life cycle

Yeast are simple unicellular eukaryotes that undergo the biochemical process of fermentation, releasing ethanol and carbon dioxide as waste products. We can all thank yeast for our bread and beer, but there’s much more to this little organism.

A Study in Yeast

Yeast (S. cerevisiae) is a widely used model organism in the laboratory because its genome, which is completely sequenced, has many similarities to humans. Yeast, as eukaryotes like our cells, have chromosomes packaged as DNA inside a nucleus and undergo similar biochemical pathways (ex. DNA repair, cell cycle). Despite the drastic physical differences, they have hundreds of “swappable” and homologous genes to humans and thus, proteins with similar biochemical properties as humans, making them ideal for research studies on disease (neurodegenerative diseases, cancer). Not only that, yeast are very easy to care for in the lab; they grow in colonies in liquid or solid media (agar), do not require oxygen (but grow faster with oxygen), and can grow well at room temperature (optimal temp. 30ºC). I started with a single swipe of yeast cells on my plate, and after one night, the plate was filled!

Yeast

I did an experiment based on their mechanisms for DNA repair using UV light. I loved working with yeast because it smells like bread (I just caught a few whiffs when I opened up the dish, please don’t deliberately sniff the yeast).

Fun fact: The mating projections of yeast are called shmoos!

 

For more information: basic outline on why we use yeast in research, “Could Yeast be the New Hero in Biomedical Research?”, PDF on yeast and neurodegenerative diseases (first few pages are helpful)

Summer Agenda

  • AP homework (art, chemistry, french)
  • summer camps (Brown University, University of Maryland)
  • volleyball
  • SAT prep

Finals are over, and summer has begun. That doesn’t mean that work and learning is over though, as my teachers have already given me stacks of assignments that are due throughout the summer. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to summer, even the work I have to do. After all, I chose classes that I have a passion for.

Onto the exciting events! Tomorrow, I start a week-long laboratory course at Brown University. I’m really looking forward to this camp because it will be the first time that I’m staying away from home (by myself) for an extended period of time. Wish me luck!