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Summer 2012 Blog - Alyssa Kehlenbach

Alyssa Kehlenbach is spending twelve weeks in the Bay Area working at the Berkeley Lab.


June 17, 2012

For my Cal Energy Corps placement, I’m working at the Joint BioEnergy Institute or JBEI under the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. I’m working in the feedstocks division in cell wall engineering. My experience so far has been amazing, everyone is very welcoming and constantly checking to make sure that I am comfortable and understanding all that we are doing in the lab.

My project is focused on wax accumulation in Arabidopsis in order to create better water efficiency for plants. I’ve joined the project about midway through and I’m working on applying the developed technology to other species of plants to make sure that eventually this can be applied to crops to decrease the dependency on water. The process of growing the transgenic plants takes about three to six months to get the homozygous plants for increased wax accumulation, so I’m lucky that I’m entering the project in the place that I am. The team I’m working with is already on the final stages of growing the third generation of homozygous plants. In my past couple of weeks I’ve been learning my way around the lab and trying to understand the technology behind the project. I spent a lot of my time just reading papers about my topic and about Arabidopsis genes in general. I’ve also learned different lab techniques such as preparing the proper agar for our plants, sterilizing seeds, planting seeds in specific trays for optimizing results and recently I’ve learned how to run RT PCR for gene expression.

Something that I found very interesting was that I did a PCR experiment in one of my lab classes at UC Berkeley, but doing it in a real life lab setting was very different. So far this has been a great learning experience and I’m looking forward to learning new techniques and getting results in my experiments. 

July 11, 2012

A big lesson I’ve learned is that it’s ok to make mistakes. In a lab , it can seem like every mistake could be the end of the world, resulting is repeating whole procedures or losing data. But that is alright. I’ve had to throw out plates I left upside down, repeat a PCR , throw out more plates because the agar was too dry and other small things. But this has helped me to learn, I know the exact procedure for making MS media for my plates from memory and I can do it perfectly now. I’m still getting a handle on the RT-PCR but I can make the gel for electrophoresis exactly right.

It’s important to right down every little detail from every procedure because it makes it a lot easier to find the mistake. I’ve been writing down details from everyday I spend in the lab because it’ll become important when I leave and someone else takes over my project. But it’s also important when I need to look back and improve on a result or figure out what went wrong.

Throughout all of this, my work leads have been amazing, they always make sure I don’t have questions and they reassure me if I make a mistake. I always have to remember that I’m new here and inexperienced while basically everyone else is a post doc.  This is learning experience for me, I’m here to gain as much knowledge as I can about lab procedures and my project in general and I have. One of my mentors will teach my how to do a procedure and then walk away while I do it. He does that so I won’t be nervous with him looking over my shoulder and so I can find my own personal way to do it. For example, when I was learning how to harvest seeds, he just showed me what to do and then let me figure out the easiest way for me to harvest the seeds. That’s also been great for learning; I’m doing so much on my own that can remember how to perform all the procedures. I love all the hands on experience I’m getting as well as actually learning about the science behind my project. Right now I know more about wax biosynthesis and Arabidopsis wax biosynthesis genes than I ever thought I would know.

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