Written by Makenzie Duncan
Two days ago, I returned from Auburn, Alabama where I conducted microbiological research involving the bacterial communities hidden in bat poop at Auburn University. Yes. You read that right.
For the last two-ish weeks, I accompanied Dr. Kloepper’s transition from the field to the lab with our microbiology Yoda John McInroy, and it was filled with what seemed like endless amounts of agar plates, Southern barbecue, early bedtimes, and excitement.
When we had our first day in the lab on June 13th, Dr. Kloepper and I both didn’t know what exactly to expect. Though I have some microbiology knowledge (many thanks, Dr. Khadka!), I, too, am an organismal biologist through and through. I never would have guessed that in just a week and half’s time, I would grow to actually enjoy running PCR gels, staring at collections of As, Gs, Cs, and Ts, culturing seemingly innocent colonies of bacteria to find that they could rip my blood cells for food, and more thrills of being a microbiology novice.
When we first entered the lab, we quickly scrunched our noses to the potent smell of cultured plates and gawked at the first round of bacteria we would study. This would be the first of several lines of cultures that we scrutinized for the next week and a half, praying that we could get something freaky to grow. By the end of our time in the Kloepper laboratory, we had successfully cultured and isolated 99 samples (and we have more in the works!), some of which we have already identified. Who would have thought that two organismal biologists and one microbiological sage could have carried out such a feat? We were also able to take our samples back to Saint Mary’s, where they will hibernate in the -80°C freezer so that another Belle can eventually continue this research. Our poop treated us well and left us with many questions that we hope we can address and answer.
All microbiology aside, I discovered many other new things during my time in the South. I learned that humidity can truly make you feel like it’s raining outside even when it’s not. I learned how to de-seed a tomato, make savory oatmeal, run uphill correctly, watch Naked and Afraid without thinking it’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen, and wake up before the sun rises without being a total grumpy pants. I had the chance to meet Dr. Kloepper’s awesome family and be a part of a remarkable collaboration with a major university—and I don’t even have a degree yet!
Now that we have made the 12 hour drive back (and listened to another fabulous crime podcast), my current homework is to collect information regarding the pathogenicity of bacteria found in a bulk collection of guano for a manuscript that we are completing with Molli, another member of the Auburn lab family. Pray for me—this is one of the longest Excel sheets I’ve ever seen! After that’s done, I can begin formatting my senior composition, and that makes me both super excited and terrified at the same time, but mostly excited. J
Thank you for all of those who sent kind thoughts our way throughout the trip. It was a life-changing week and a half filled with both the typical and atypical ups and downs of research and I am so honored to have had the privilege of being an Auburn Tiger for a short time. Thank you to Dr. Kloepper for allowing me to accompany her on this terrific journey into the lab and for letting me load most of the PCR gels :), to John for guiding both of us to not contaminate our data, and to Saint Mary’s for allowing research to continue to grow at our institution.
War Eagle, Belle Yeah! Makenzie