A number of Transition Year Students attended a five week science course in the Science Gallery. This is a meeting of second and third level students together with industry and they have been involved in some very exciting projects.
Zara Khan has written the blog below about the first four weeks of the course. Week four which was her favourite involved the dissection of a Bobtail Squid (see attached photo).
This was our first week at the Science Gallery Transition Year Course and we weren’t sure what to expect! This session acted as an introductory lecture where we met our teachers, Jane and Conor. We were told what participation in this course would entail with regards to the topics we would cover and our aims for the end of the placement. After briefly learning about Synthetic Biology we were encouraged to come up with our own ideas of how we could use practical applications of Synthetic Biology in our everyday lives, before compiling our ideas on a brainstorm board. We were told that we would break into groups at a later stage; depending on which development we were intrigued by, and innovate a prototype, as well as presenting a project on our chosen area. Overall, after this first experience, I was really looking forward to what the next week would hold!
This week we tackled our first practical element of the course when we were set the task of a “microbe safari” whereby we prepared our very own Petri Dishes of microorganisms. After filling each plate with Agar Jelly in its liquid state we began by collecting samples, which we planned to culture our organisms from. There was a wide range of environments tested such as; the screens of phones, door handles, the back of our hands and even the surface of the bin! We set our specimens aside and planned to revisit them the following week after the microorganisms had had the chance to harbour and grow. We then worked on developing our musings on the board a bit further, by categorising each suggestion under a different topic, for example; technology, energy, sports, as well as beauty. We voted on our favourite concepts too, thus eliminating many of the options. We received homework, which involved watching a TED talk about microbe ecology in buildings, where research was gathered by a scientist called Jessica Green, which uses engineering and design to solve serious world problems, like widespread infections within hospitals (http://www.ted.com/talks/jessica_green_good_germs_make_healthy_buildings.html). We were also sent articles about new and exciting innovations to inspire us, such as a new take on the classic umbrella that uses Dyson’s Airblade Technology to combat rain, eliminating the farce that is flimsy umbrellas
(http://www.dvice.com/2013-1-25/futuristic-umbrella-concept-uses-dyson-air-tech-repel-rain)! Finally, we were delighted when we received a link to a very amusing tutorial that taught us how to make glowing sushi, which was quite a funny application of science (http://www.glowingsushi.com).
This week, we had the chance to examine how our Petri Dishes had come along. Conor, one of our teachers, identified and explained each different type of microorganism to us and also its individual characteristics, before we had the pleasure of examining the different colonies through a microscope. This was such a fascinating exercise due to the high power of the laboratory equipment, the differences between the structures of each microbe were clear. Prior to this lesson in microbiology, I could never have imagined the complexity involved in this kind of research. Using Skype, the class had a lengthy chat with the infamous bio hacker, Cathal Garvey, about how he got involved in Synthetic Biology, his opinions on the viability of each of our concepts and his thoughts on the future of science. His career was extremely colourful. After studying science and being employed at a cancer research lab, he decided to leave his job and become a bio hacker. He began operating a lab in his parents’ spare room, literally “hacking” biology, as we know it, through the medium of cross species genetics among other things. One of his main concerns was educating the public on how little we actually know about the world of science, and how this must change. We also got to ask him questions about what he does and how we could get involved in work similar to his. Finally, we narrowed our hypotheses to 4 competitors;
1) Synbio water filters - cleaning water in developing/developed world using bacteria!
2) Synbio taste revolution - making healthy food tastier or unhealthy food not very tasty at all!
3) Synbio drugs regulation - catching out drug cheats in sport!
4) Synbio lighting solutions - lighting homes with bioluminescent bacteria!
We divided into groups according to our preferences. Our homework involved viewing a TED talk by Dr. Bonnie Bassler about how bacteria can communicate with one another, through chemical signals, to act as a unit (http://www.ted.com/talks/bonnie_bassler_on_how_bacteria_communicate.html), reading a blog post about how to create glow in the dark yoghurt by Cathal Garvey (http://www.indiebiotech.com/?p=152) and finally, a captivating tutorial on how to culture glow in the dark algae/bacteria and use it as part of a bi-light bulb (http://www.instructables.com/id/Bioluminescent-Bacterial-Lightbulb-Water-Polluti/).
This week was, without a doubt, my favourite so far as we had the chance to observe the dissection of a Bobtail Squid. The reason we did this was to culture the bacteria within its ink, and on its photophores. These are the places where the squid houses a bacteria called Aliivibrio fischeri. This bioluminescent bacteria aids the squid to hide from predators and collect its own prey. The squid is nocturnal, by day he sleeps beneath the sands. On bright starry nights, where the light is strong enough to penetrate the depth of the water, the squid ventures out to hunt. Using the light of the moon and stars, the squid is able to counter-illuminate itself causing it to have no shadow; this symbiosis relationship gives the squid an anti-predator mechanism, as the other fish can no longer see him, and also making his own task of getting food easier! After watching the dissection and preparing our samples, we left them aside to culture over the next week, to see if we could culture the bioluminescent aliivibirio fischeri. For the last half an hour, we began working in our groups on our projects, with the help of our teachers Jane and Conor. Our work over the course of the next week included reading articles about the mysterious 5th taste Umami (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/apr/09/umami-fifth-taste) the role of drugs in synthetic biology (http://scienceatcal.berkeley.edu/lectures/2013/02), using photosynthesis for a different source of energy (http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-57579355-1/biq-house-worlds-first-building-powered-by-algae/), a prototype project on how to create glowing plants (http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/1836/20130509/glowing-plants-replace-lamps-group-works-make-happen-despite-warnings.htm) and a very inspiring TED talk about how we can explore physics without the need for huge machinery!
Zara Khan 4G