Research area: Cellular and Metabolic Engineering
Research group: Dr. Hal Alper
My role and tasks in the lab: I work alongside graduate student Eric Young, and help him by performing tasks such as restriction enzyme digests, PCRs, mini-preps, genomic DNA preps, ligations, gel extractions, and fermentations. Throughout my time working in the lab, I have been taught a great deal of theory behind each of these tasks. At times, I have been expected to write papers explaining the research we are doing.
How this research will benefit society: By finding a xylose transport protein, we will increase the capacity for yeast to produce ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass, the part of corn and sugarcane that we do not use as food. This will decrease competition for these food sources, increasing their availability in a starving world. It will also help to reduce the price of ethanol. The procedures that we are perfecting in this process can benefit society in an even greater way because they are applicable to both the energy and pharmaceutical world.
How I plan to use this experience in my career: I am interested in working for a pharmaceutical company. Though much of what I do in lab will not be directly transferable to my work in industry, it is helping me to develop a background in many of the processes commonly used. This experience is also expanding my understanding of many metabolic processes and cell characteristics, both of which I expect to be useful in my future career. Furthermore, this experience has taught me how to cope in a field I initially knew nothing about.
The most memorable breakthrough in my research group: This past year my group was able to research the largest survey of xylose transporters to date. This was extremely exciting because it gave us a much greater understanding of the xylose transport mechanism, and brought us a great deal closer to finding an efficient xylose transporter.
My advice to students who plan to do research: My advice is once you start working in a lab, to ask as many questions as you can. Not all professors have undergraduates working in their labs, so if your professor does, it means he wants you there to learn something. Take full advantage of this. You may never get another chance to have such knowledgeable mentors who truly care about your learning experience.