June 7, 2016

Glowing Colonies - Ms. Sonet

Guest Contributor
Ms. Gabrielle Sonet - Golda Och Academy Upper School Science Teacher

I have been teaching a long time. Every once in awhile, something out of the ordinary happens in a class that makes you pause. These are the moments that go into your treasure trove of teaching. One such moment happened this year with my senior biology class during the Transformation Lab.
During this lab, we attempt to get a bioluminescent gene from a jellyfish to be taken up by E coli bacteria. When a cell takes in a foreign gene, it is said to be  transformed. If the E coli successfully takes in the jellyfish gene, and if grown on the proper medium, the E coli will glow. Since E coli reproduce quickly in an incubator set to 37 Celsius,  you will actually see glowing, round, colonies of E coli.
The students had been warned that transformation efficiencies are very low. In other words, cells have to be coaxed into taking in foreign DNA, and most, will not. In most years, one or two groups out of six, at most, achieve transformation. About an hour before class, I quickly peeked into the incubator, where all the stacked petri dishes lay, with a UV flashlight, looking for signs of glowing colonies. Because the petri dishes were stacked and bound by tape, it was hard to get a good look at each dish, but I saw no glowing. I knew the students would be disappointed.
Class began and each group got out their petri dishes and began looking at the results. Suddenly, I heard raucousness at one table.
“Could it be?” I wondered, as I ran over with the UV flashlight in hand. There they were; two plump colonies of glowing E coli. This crazy discovery, however, was not the special moment; that came next. In what seemed like seconds, completely spontaneously, the petri dish with the glowing colonies was placed on a chair. Next, the chair was heaved into the air like a bar or bat mitzvah and the class began singing “Siman Tov U Mazal Tov.”
Within seconds, they were out the door of our lab, racing down the hall to Mr. Gerstle’s lab. I’ll never forget the stunned look on his students’ faces when  my students burst in, heaving  a petri dish up and down in the air, singing. After showing off their beautiful glowing colonies, it was down the hall to the STEM wing of the building. Now, they wanted to show their glowing colonies to Dr. Jeng. They burst into his class right before the bell, continuing on with their same celebratory antics. But the story doesn’t end here.
The next class, we were sitting quietly, engaged in some discussion, when our lab door burst open. In came Mr. Gerstle’s class, acting just as my class had before, singing and cheering. On the chair was a petri dish. Only, there were no glowing colonies. Instead, their petri dish was completely covered in white, spindly fungus that looked like cotton candy.
Contamination. Maybe not the desired results, but equally impressive!
So, why do I count this story as one of my moments? It was so spontaneous, so genuinely filled with joy at getting good results and, frankly, where else could a story like this take place, except at GOA? This is why I love teaching here!
Best of luck to my senior biology class: Jordan Broder, Seth Gleaner, Rafi Jones, Leia Kessler, Heather Kizner, Rachel Kramer, Rayna Landa, Dylan Mendelowitz, Daniela Shapiro, Talia Solomon and Noah Susskind.

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