A rat’s tale

Through the academic lab..

My initial expectations of the Microbiology and Immunology (MBIM) major at UBC were rife with laboratory-based research courses. And before long, I was well on my way to finally becoming a lab rat. Ascertaining that I was going to spend half of my degree doing chemistry and biology laboratory courses was particularly dispiriting.

BIOL 140 – Studying the behavior of p.vulgaris

Over the course of these first two years, I did CHEM 121, CHEM 123 and CHEM 235 which were mostly focused on inorganic and organic chemistry techniques. I also did BIOL 140 which was a change from the chemistry scenery but still far from my expectations. However, I learnt to appreciate these courses more because they brought life to classroom concepts in my chemistry courses at the time. My craving for research in MBIM was far from quenched at the time, but they provided a valuable foundation for my courses. Reflections on my experiences in BIOL 140 can be found in my other blog.

My promotion to third year standing in the 2016/2017 winter session cleared my path to laboratory learning in microbiology and immunology. MICB 322 and MICB 323 offered me academic laboratory experience through the MBIM program. Through MICB 322 (winter term 1), I was introduced to fundamental microbiology techniques like: inoculation of agar broth and plates, gram staining, isolation and identification of bacterial species, biochemical testing, API testing, antibiotic sensitivity testing, and general dilutions.

MICB 322 – Staphylococci growing on agar plates.

Interweaved with these were molecular techniques like: protein quantification, spectrophotometry, DNA extraction, Genomic DNA digests and transformation, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), running agarose gels, DNA sequencing and using BLAST for identification of genes. More importantly, I isolated and identified a staphylococcus species from my skin using various biochemical tests, antibiotic sensitivity tests and PCR. This project was written up in the Journal of bacteriology format (without a methods section), and will always serve as my first laboratory-based project/study. In addition to learning more about my own microbiota, this project is something I can always use as a reference point as I aim to improve my writing in the future.

I proceeded to MICB 323 (winter term 2) which in addition to providing a host of learning experiences, turned out to be more academically challenging. MICB 323 was more heavily focussed on molecular biology and virology. I honed some of the aforementioned skills, and was introduced to: eukaryotic cell culture, protein expression systems, ELISAs and western blots for protein quantification and identification, viral infection and cultures, RT qPCR, and theories underlying flow cytometry. Doing this course exposed to me some of my crucial strengths and weaknesses. The more challenging parts during this course were preliminary calculations which dominated the quizzes and exams, but my performance was exalted by the written assignments. This ascertained confidence in my ability to write and present my research, and highlighted the need to improve how quickly I grasped calculations for experimental set up.

In the 2017/2018 academic year, I will be doing MICB 401 and directed studies (MICB448). This promises more independence in laboratory research but I look forward to exploring my research interests and expanding my abilities in and out of the lab. I will update this blog to include my reflections for this course.

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