Sunday 1 May 2011 – Last Lab Day

Today was our last full lab day and the beginning of the end for this trip.

After breakfast in the cafeteria, Zac and I began to purify bacterial messenger RNA (mRNA) from the water we had filtered yesterday. mRNA is the molecule that acts as the intermediate between DNA and proteins. All the information necessary to code for complex macromolecules like proteins are stored in DNA, but in order to use those instructions a cell must transcribe its DNA information into RNA that can then be translated by another complex molecule called a ribosome into proteins.

Truly life is amazing and it boggles the mind how complex and elegant it is. From the very smallest scale of atoms and molecules to the grandest scales of the universe, everything is connected. Anyway, I digress.

Our goal today was to purify RNA from the bacteria that we had captured on our filters so that we can determine which genes are turned on and how active those genes are. We are particularly interested in those genes that bacteria use to assimilate inorganic nitrogen because we suspect that the addition of new carbon in the form of the humics released from the melting permafrost will require bacteria to use more inorganic nitrogen. If this is true we should see an increase in the genetic expression of the genes involved in inorganic nitrogen assimilation.  Anyway, that’s why we need the RNA.

The initial step of our purification procedure requires two sets of hands and that was my job this morning.  Once we had safely gotten our filters containing all those bacteria into the first extraction reagent which stabilizes the RNA I was free to start packing-up our labs while Zac completed the RNA extractions.

Zac purifying RNA

I started with the cold room where we had filtered all the water.  Although it took us many hours to set-up the lab and to make sure that we had everything in exactly the right place, it only took me about half an hour to dismantle it.

Cold room during use and after being cleaned-up.

It’s kind of sad to tear down a lab that was so functional, but we know we’ll be back in the summer to do it again. Just for grins we left one little piece of orange tape on the floor to see if anyone else uses the space before we get back.

Once Zac finished the purifications we really got busy rinsing and cleaning all our gear and getting everything ready to be packed away.  At around 3pm we stopped to sample Zac’s ongoing experiment; there’s only one more time point to go in that study. Then we went to help Lollie pack her bags and get checked in for her flight home.

Because the airport here is so small but still requires the TSA agents to screen all bags, travelers are encouraged to check in early. This greatly reduces the check in wait times and relieves congestion in the very small arrival/departure area.  After Lollie checked in she went back home and finished preparing a fabulous Mexican dinner for the whole team.

Alas all good things must come to an end and finally it was time for Lollie, Adriane, and Debbie to head back to the airport to start their long journeys home.  We miss them already.

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