Okay, okay, that title maybe slightly misleading if taken out of context, but in this situation I really am referring to dirt. Well actually, I have been told that it is only called “dirt” after you have gotten it on your pants and then must somehow wash it off. Other than that specific circumstance, or of course if a person possesses a Ph.D. in the subject, one shall not call soil, or any of its variations (sediment, loam, clay, earth, etc.) dirt. Basically what I am trying to get at is that there is so much more to the soil that has always been beneath our own two feet, and the potential to learn from it is both immense and exciting, and I am exceedingly happy to be a part of the research.
Over the course of seven weeks I have had the privilege to be a part of the Academic Research Consortium at UCSB. Through this program I have been placed under the mentorship of principal investigator and soil scientist Dr. Josh Schimel in the department of ecology, evolution, and marine biology. I have also had the opportunity to work with post docs Joey Blankinship, who also specializes in soil science, and Caryl Becerra, who focuses on microbiology, as I make my way through my research project. Though it may seem that soil is just a messy and boring part of the earth, in reality it is teeming with life and biological processes. Specifically, we have been focusing on roles and life spans of certain extracellular enzymes exclusively found in soil.
So, what is an extracellular enzyme? Or an enzyme in general? An enzyme is basically a catalyst. It helps chemical processes along, and without them many biological and chemical procedures would transpire much too slowly for life to occur. Extracellular enzymes do the same jobs, but they are unique because they exist outside of the cell. The extracellular enzymes found in soil are important because they are continuously working through a cycle that facilitates both the decomposition of organic matter and the cycling of nutrients throughout the environment.
For my project, I have been looking into the life spans of these enzymes. How long do they last? And what is their fate when we add protease or protease-producing microbes into the mix? (Enzymes are made of protein, so protease is, in a way, an enzyme eating enzyme) These are just some of the questions that I hope to answer in the remaining three weeks in the lab.
Looking back on the first days of this program I realize that there is definitely a transition period that must take place between one’s classroom lab experience and the actual experience in a research setting. I had never before been left to go about an experiment unsupervised, so I had really had to use good judgment, as well as common sense of course, to accomplish my tasks. For the first time there was not professor standing behind me to answer all of my questions and making sure that I was wearing my gloves and safety goggles, and that is in a way both relieving and intimidating. Now, I’ve got three weeks left and I cannot believe how fast the time has gone by. I am extremely grateful for being able to spend a good chunk of my summer here, and I cannot wait to apply what I have learned into my future work.