Using Light To Transform Cells

Hello there, my name is Ricardo Espinosa Lima. I’m a rising sophomore at UCSB and my major is Pre-Biology (Biochemistry). I am also part of the program EUREKA, which introduces freshmen into research during the summer. At first, I was really nervous to join a Biology lab since I had not taken any Biology coursework at UCSB. My knowledge of biology primarily comes from high school and I knew that was not enough to fully understand the intricacies in a research lab. To my fortune, both my mentor and PI were aware of this fact and still gave me the opportunity to join their lab.

My first time in the lab was scary. Everyone else was either a graduate student or a third-year student at UCSB. The difference in experience was tacit but I was still eager to learn more about the project in hand. The larger project involves using light to control cell differentiation of stem cells. What does this mean in simpler terms? The lab seeks to control which type of cell we can create using only one type of cell. Imagine being able to create muscular, bone cells or even neurons… using light! While this is the big picture of the project, my personal one, in a smaller scale, seeks to learn more about a family of proteins that are in charge in transcribing genes so that these cell transformations can happen.

One of the first tasks in lab was to familiarize more with jargon used and learn basic protocols that can get the project started. Even though the protocols take two to three hours to perform, the real magic of biology occurs at night. Most of my lab work the first weeks was to culture bacteria and retrieve their DNA. Many things happened in between which delayed the progress of my project. For example, one lab member changed the temperature of the device we put our bacteria in and basically killed them all. I had to retry the whole protocol the next day and hope this time works (This was my third try). Finally, I could finish one part of the experiment and got a good yield in my DNA extraction (according to my mentor). The worst part of my experiment was waiting a whole week for my primers to arrive. They usually take a couple of days to arrive, but mine took too long to arrive. In the meantime, I fed myself with literature about the proteins I’m researching. My PI asked me to do a mini project in which I look at the signaling pathways of these processes. I’m proud to say he liked my work and now entrusts me with more of these little projects.

Overall, I have had fun in learning more about lab practices more in depth, making friends that help me understand more about these concepts that for me pose a higher level of difficulty and interacting with students of different levels. I have been reading publications like crazy and even my biology textbook for the class that I will be taking next quarter. Work in lab can be difficult, tedious, scary and the experiments might not work most of the time; however, learning in every step and discovering more about the microscopical world we call life is definitely a motivation to stay in the lab. I would like to end this blog with my own personal box where I keep my plasmids and primers that I use in lab. It makes me happy to know that I am part of the team.