“The Honors Capstone” by Felicia Seybold

I remember the experience of checking my degree audit during my first year here at the University of Delaware. At the time, nothing was fulfilled and there were a million and one classes that I had to take (or so it seemed). The requirement that I felt the most far away from completing was my Honors capstone course, which must be completed within the last two semesters of your degree. Well, I am now in my last semester, taking my Honors capstone. I am an Applied Molecular Biology and Biotechnology major (a mouthful, I know; I just say biotech), and we have a unique capstone course. We are placed at laboratory internships to apply and practice the skills we have learned in class. This semester I was placed at MIDI Labs (now part of Biolog), a local microbial identification lab in Newark, Delaware.

I have definitely learned many things about bacterial cultures and DNA analysis as part of my degree, but I have learned so much more about microbiology at this internship. Every day, we get a variety of customer samples, from agar plates with colonies to liquid broths teaming with bacterial culture, and it is our job to isolate the DNA and identify these organisms. My favorite samples are the agar plates. In a single stack of plates, I might find bubble-gum pink colonies, slimy snot-like bacterial lawns, or cloud-like fungal masses that take up a whole plate. Using aseptic techniques under a biosafety cabinet, we carefully pick a sample off the plate and put it in a tube to process it for DNA sequencing. This tells us all or part of the genetic code of an organism, and we can match it to known sequences in a database to identify it.

MIDI also offers MALDI-TOF analysis, which is a kind of mass-spectrometry for proteins. In simpler terms, one can analyze the proteins in a bacterial sample by vaporizing it with lasers. The tiny fragments of protein fly through a tube, pass by a magnet which alters their flight path, and land on an analyzer according to their size. Based on the pattern of fragments, the proteins in the sample are identified, and from that the bacteria can be identified. Both MALDI-TOF and DNA sequencing are things which I have attended lectures and read articles about, but I have never seen them in person. But because of my Honors capstone course, I now have had the opportunity to work with these technologies and understand how they work on a practical level.

When I open my degree audit now in my last semester, every requirement is filled and the page is fully collapsed. Each course code is no longer a mystery class to be completed at a later date; they are a record of the many hours I have spent learning. My Honors capstone is the culmination of my time here, and it has been a wonderful experience to use what I have learned in the classroom outside in the field I hope to work in after graduation.

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1 Comment

  1. Felicia, this is wonderful! While I know nothing about agar plates and bacterial cultures, your descriptions are fascinating. It sounds like your capstone is the perfect culmination of all your coursework and I hope it launches you into the next step of your education, career, and life!

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