When local students Maya Hanck of Carondelet High School and Tim Kostolansky of De La Salle High School expressed an interest in learning more about the principles of synthetic biology, Robert Evans and Jan-Fang Cheng in the Functional Genomics group took it upon themselves to mentor them.
Why take on high school students instead of undergraduates or graduate students? “I want to give them the opportunity to learn and practice a skill set that they may use in the future,” Evans explained. “Some of the techniques they are learning now they will be expected to learn in college, so this gives them a leg up.”
“One of my favorite parts of the internship has been the application of textbook biology I learned at school to “real-life” biology used in a laboratory setting,” said Kostolansky, who previously interned in a different JGI lab. “I PCR, quantify, assemble and transform genes into bacteria in preparation for sequencing. Once the DNA is sequenced, I analyze the sequencing data to determine whether it matches the desired sequence. In my project, I am working with genes from enzymes in the cow rumen (one of its four stomachs) in order to replicate the enzymes’ function of breaking down plant matter.”
Tim and Maya worked together as a team in order to perform their daily jobs in the lab. While Evans guided them when they had questions or needed help, he also made sure that they were independent enough to complete tasks on their own.
“One of my favorite things about my JGI internship has been being able to learn new techniques by watching my mentor, and then being able to do them myself,” Maya cited as a highlight of her summer internship.
Evans wanted to give them a taste of what real lab work was like for scientists to help them in the future when choosing whether or not to pursue a STEM career. “I hope they’re practicing teamwork, the importance of reading the instructions, and just generally getting an idea for how things run in a real workplace,” he said.
Story and photos by JGI Communications & Outreach intern Elise Schiappacasse.