Students of biology in general (and molecular biology or genetics in particular) will notice early on the science’s obsession with light. It’s almost a bit weird. Every time you turn around something’s fluorescent, or bioluminescent, or just being shot at by frickin laser beams.
Microscopes are the first and most obvious hint at this. Light and lenses bring the small and fragile up close, make the invisible inhabitants of the world seen. Some of these inhabitants, incidentally, are horrifying.
The capillary gel electrophoresis method of sequencing DNA uses fluorescent tags and lasers to give the sequence. Other sequencing technologies sense light as synthesis occurs (though it’s more complicated than that).
When people are first introduced into recombinant genetics, light shows up to the party. Various glowing or fluorescent…er, everythings get trotted out on the news every so often. And transforming Escherichia coli with a GFP-expressing plasmid so it fluoresces under UV light has been described as a “hello world” of biotech—I had a lab doing that back in community college and I’ve heard of people doing it in high school.
As classes go on, they tell you why this abundance of sticking glow-genes in everything happens; as reporters so that you can find things and watch them. If you want to know where a particular bit or bob is, it’s easier to find with a marker on it. Like, for instance, making it glow. We make light so that we can see. And as so many people have done with fire and electricity and tiny awkward bracelets with stuff in them, it can be done in the chemicals of life.
Whoo! Go team bio!
Look, I originally decided to concentrate in genetics and biotech because I thought it was fascinating. After years of lectures, of volunteering, of swearing at plates* that didn’t grow, of staring at the colors from ab1 files, of wikis, of hackerspaces, well! It’s more. I think it’s the future. Or, you know, part of it. As is, admittedly, everything else except video rental shops. But it’s certainly a part of my future.
I’ve done nothing in my life but go to school. So before grad school, there’ll be other things. Jobs. Bad apartments. Beer. No, seriously, I’m interested in food microbiology sort of stuff (and the genetics thereof) and San Diego’s craft beer scene has vasty deeps that include lactic acid bacteria and possibly even jobs relating to it. Lactic acid bacteria, people!**
But back to light. Light is, of course, representative of learning and knowledge—there’s an Aladdin-style lamp on our school seal, even. And light is what I’m taking with me as I leave.
*plates=petri dishes with growth medium.
**…everyone looks at me weird when I get excited over the possibilities of lactic acid bacteria for some reason. You’re probably looking at me weird right now. But…yogurt! Sourdough! Lambics! CHEESE! Come on! …fine, be that way.