Microbiology Research as an Undergrad

Public Domain-Not Greg Kincheloe

When I first started working in Dr. Jonathan Eisen’s lab my junior year of college, I was assigned a pretty open ended task.  Swab something from the built environment and see what grows.  This being the first time I was actually doing research, I was incredibly excited to go out and swab the world.  My main target, however, was my work place.  A place where human sweat, grime, and years of oily hands and skin particles had turned the equipment to a discolored and often black shade.  I had seen how often everything was cleaned, and it was not often enough.  This sparked my initial question.  What kind of bacteria grows in a gym?

After swabbing four pieces of equipment, growing plates, and isolating four interesting–looking cultures, it became clear to me that I had not even begun the real research.  It took me at least a month to be able to successfully extract DNA from the samples.  I believe that I attempted PCR a total of nine times before it worked enough to go to the next stage.  Then the sequencing did not work, so I had to do PCR over again.  Dr. David Coil was incredibly patient, even when I was visibly frustrated that I couldn’t get anything right.  Step after step took months for me to complete, until finally I got real results.  Arthrobacter Sp. strain UCD-GKA was what came out of my trial by fire.  Though the phylogenetic tree could not determine exactly what species of Arthrobacter I had found, I am still incredibly proud of it.  Though the process was long and arduous, the reward was great, and resulted in a draft genome announcement for the bacteria that I had found on a small weight bench in a gym.  Here is the link if anyone cares to take a gander.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5331507/

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