Thursday, May 12, 2016

Hey, I made something!

When people think of biological engineering, the picture that often comes to mind is a person in a lab coat pipetting solutions from one tube to another, culturing cells in Petri dishes, or taking care of mice for some experiment.  In Mod 1 and Mod 2, we modified our own calcium sensors and investigated NHEJ repair on different dsb topologies.  Until Mod 3, it didn’t feel like I was doing anything out of the ordinary in the scope of biological engineering.

Mod 3 gave me a fresh, new look into biological engineering.  While bacteriophages are not uncommon tools to work with in biological engineering, making batteries using biomineralization and phages are certainly not the first thing that comes to mind when people think about bacteriophages.  Besides the newness of the idea of making a battery out of phages, Mod 3 was different in the way that we worked in lab.  In Mod 1 and Mod 2, we spent a good amount of time in lab pipetting, centrifuging, culturing cells, and preparing assays.  In Mod 3, while we still spent time pipetting and centrifuging, I felt that our work felt more tangible.  In Mod 3, we were able to visualize our mineralized phages up close (like 100000x magnification up close), physically roll out our cathodes, and see our batteries light up LEDs placed to spell out ‘MIT.’  Most of all, at the end of this module, we got to keep our batteries.  In Mod 1 and Mod 2, we tested our calcium sensors with a fluorescence assay and DNA repair with flow cytometry but we weren’t actually able to see the fluorescence of our protein sensors or our cells in the flow cytometer.

What was cool about Mod 3 was that while we were still fundamentally modifying protein structure and exploiting these new properties, the techniques that we proceeded to use in our experiments were different because we were using our phages to make a battery.  Ultimately, I learned a lot more about making cathodes and assembling batteries than I would have imagined when I first enrolled in 20.109.  After the last day of lab on Friday, I brought home my battery and showed my friends how it lit up the LED and told the how I used bacteriophages to make it.  The next day at the Moving Day pageant, the actors/hosts talked about how MIT had innovation everywhere and cited Professor Angela Belcher, who makes batteries out of viruses, as an example.  Immediately, I looked to my friends next to me and raised my hand yelling, “Hey, I did that in 20.109!  Remember that battery I showed you guys?”

In this class, I have definitely gotten a taste of a few of the many types of biological engineering and have learned a lot of laboratory and communication techniques.  I learned a lot about inverse pericam, non-homologous end joining, and biomineralization of M13 phages.  Now when my parents ask me about my semester, I can show them my battery to prove that I have actually done something this semester.

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