COVID Lock Down Inspires New Thesis

Sunday, October 18, 2020

2020 has been a year of great turmoil due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With labs operating only at 50% capacity, many have been prompted to work from home. Shelter in place also meant no unessential travel and avoidance of social gatherings, which has led to many people picking up new hobbies to fill up their new-found time.

Graduate student from the department of microbiology and immunology, Aries Mandy, is no exception. Since the lockdown in April, she has cultured a passion for baking sourdough bread, no thanks to societal and peer pressure from living in San Francisco. As a microbiologist however, she has gone the extra mile to not just bake bubbly sourdough with a crunchy crust, but has approached her new hobby with great scientific rigor.

“As a scientist, it was imperative for me to find out how differing complex microbial communities within each individual sourdough microbiota lead to different flavor profiles of bread. Everyone says it’s just a mix of lactobacillus and yeast, there are so many different strains of these microbes with diverse metabolic capabilities, each sour dough starter must be producing unique phenotypes.” Aries Mandy describes.

“This is all very interesting to me. I feel like proposing a new thesis project! There has to be a great need to characterize all these microbes and their flour interactions. I wonder how many strains will have functional redundancy.”

A quick search on ResearchGate (social media for scientists who love to gossip about troubleshooting lab fails) reveals Mandy’s current project to be on exploring how different complex gut microbiotas result in unique host phenotypes.

Mandy does so with 16S sequencing to characterize the complex gut microbe community and RNAseq and metabolomics to analyze host gene expression.

Upon being questioned if she was merely replacing key words “gut microbiome” and “host” in her thesis entitled, “Gut microbe-host interactions produces unique phenotypes” with “yeast” and “flour,” Mandy conceded and admitted that she just wanted a break from analyzing RNAseq data.

Upon further thought, Mandy realized that doing the sourdough project would lead to her also analyzing endless amounts of metagenomics, RNAseq and metabolomics data anyway, so she couldn’t escape.

She sighs and cans her sourdough dreams in the garbage can.

Her PI, Pita T. on the other hand, thinks it can be an interesting project and suggests that Aries Mandy considers it as a side project on top of her current work.

After all, she has the pipelines in place.