The other area that has been taking a gratuitous chunk of my time has been my new work in the Podila lab. I really enjoy lab bench science. There's nothing like coming in, sitting down at the bench, opening your notebook and laying out the day's work to chip away at the greater goal. You could say there's a certain level of Zen obtained in micropipetting buffers and listening to the whir of centrifuges in a laboratory. Combined with Chopin and Rachmaninoff at a faint volume, I'd rather not be anywhere else. Anyhow, my current work is funded by the USDA. We are looking to develop DNA Barcoding tests to quickly and efficiently determine the variety of basket grass a sample is of. My previous works with fishes have shown me what a problem invasive species can be in an ecosystem, and my current work emphasizes this point once again. By the end of June I should have a handle on the lower limits of Plant DNA extraction and PCR. My experiments lately have been going fairly well... My only problem has been in my low concentrations obtained by DNA extractions. I'm not sure why they are sticking below 40ng/uL, but Leland says he routinely achieves concentrations greater than 70ng/uL. I have a few theories, and it is necessary that I figure out my problem before I attempt much more. Learning the basic protocol has been fun. Leland has been good about it too, he definitely adopts a Laissez faire approach which allows me to learn the protocol at my own pace without someone leaning over me the entire time. My first challenge was to use his new USDA protocol to ascertain the types of two unknown Cogongrass samples. The Wild-Type and Invasive Revert look almost phenotypically identical to each each other; moreover, they are genetically indistinct from each other save a few SNPs. I know gel pictures are the most boring thing in the world, but I feel compelled to show off a few of them here, so I think I will.
This first artsy image is from the results of my first day in the Podila lab. There's a mix of UV and daylight which gives the gel a neat color. The two bands to the right of the 1kbp marker are my heavy genomic DNA bands.
The second image is from my latest results. Clear, sharp bands!
With the sky warming up, there has been much more moisture in the air which has had a marked effect upon upper atmosphere disturbances. What I'm getting at here is that despite the sky has appeared clear, eddys in the upper atmosphere have made it unfavorable to do much astronomy lately. Thursday is supposed to be clearer, so I'm going to try going out before more storms hit. My deep space explorations have been hindered without a good set of star charts, so I picked up a nice set of charts put out by Sky and Telescope magazine. They look really great, showing up to 10th magnitude galaxies and 8th magnitude stars. To date, I've only managed to clearly see one galaxy (which I couldn't identify without charts L ) One good thing about my upcoming graduation is that I should be receiving some funds to purchase fun items like planetary eyepieces and SCUBA lessons. So far I've lost eBay bids on well over 20 eyepieces... It's difficult to get anything TeleVue for under 100 bucks. Eventually, I hope my persistence will be rewarded! Saturn has been really stellar (ha-ha) lately... I've managed to identify four moons and my scope even enables me to see the shadow that the rings cast on the planet(!). Hopefully Jupiter will be visible at a sane time soon. I've not been enough of a nerd to go out at 4 a.m. yet, but if my anticipation grows much more I might just have to!
In other news, I graduate May 15th! I've registered for my first 9 hours at Iowa and will be traveling up to get an apartment sometime later this May. Wish me luck!