Mastering Science!

Once a year at the Handelsman Lab, a week-long workshop, Mastering Metagenomics, is hosted to target undergraduate students interested in microbiology, and scientists who desire training in metagenomics.  In the past, we’ve had participants from the University of Puerto Rico came and this year, I had the wonderful experience of working with participants from the University of New Mexico. The idea behind functional metagenomics is to create a library of DNA from soil samples that is around 30 kilo-bases long. I’m sure you’re wondering why students would travel so far to just to isolate extremely long strands of DNA.  Well, DNA tells us the function of every living being on earth, from bacteria to human beings. It tells us what enzymes they’re able to produce, what hair color they have, how tall they will be, etc. Using this DNA that we extract from out soil samples during the workshop, we can screen it for various genes such resistance to antibiotics (my project this summer), antibiotic producers, nitrogen producers, etc. Creating libraries of DNA from various samples such as soil and bacteria can help understand where our critical medical inventions and issues stem from. How cool is it that the antibiotics we use could come from bacteria in soil. When I think about soil, I think about plants and trees….but never antibiotics. But that is essentially the entire purpose of this workshop. Looking at DNA from soil-bacteria from places all around the world and screening various functions that we’re personally interested in investigating.  In addition to doing science, we incorporate a bit of discussion to keep things interesting, like reading primary literature and discussing current and future trends in metagenomics. The best part of this experience is being able to interact with current and future scientists who have had so many different experiences in the science field and are so eager to share them. For instance, one of our participants had just traveled to Iceland and went into a cave to get soil for the workshop and another participant had traveled to Antarctica for his sample. These unique travel experiences and the great lengths that our participants go to for science is interesting and inspiring to learn to about.

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