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A Break for Microbial Evolution

A monument to experimental success in microbial evolution (and a pretty dandy learning experience)

A monument to experimental success in microbial evolution (and a pretty dandy learning experience)

Talk about making the most of an opportunity! Sophomore Tanush Jagdish took the initiative to contact microbiologist Richard Lenski (Michigan State University), who had visited Kalamazoo College last spring as the biology department’s Diebold Symposium keynote speaker. Tanush inquired about research possibilities in Lenski’s lab over the December break. Tanush has been working in Assistant Professor of Biology Michael Wollenberg’s microbiology research lab at K since his first year, so he was already familiar with techniques he would need to work in Lenski’s lab.   Lenski graciously extended an offer to Tanush and paired him up with a postdoctoral fellow to work on microbial evolution. Tanush loved the work (that’s probably an understatement).

“This experience becomes the most intensive and profound one in my (extremely short) research career,” he wrote. “Through a very fortunate set of events, I got to work on the strain of E-coli that famously learned to eat citrate after 20 years of evolution. Essentially, in order to trace the potentiating mutations back through time, I was trying to figure out the set of genes that are required for citrate consumption in the evolved strain.

“Everything went amazingly well–my experiments worked, the yields were great! I transformed and scanned through more than 1,600 strains from a mutant library, consuming over 3,500 agar plates. As is Lenski lab tradition with large experiments, I got to build my own tower from the plates.” (see photo). Tanush also expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to work with the post-doc with whom he was paired–Dr. Zachary Blount.

“Dr. Blount was extremely kind and generous with his time when he mentored me,” said Tanush. “He is very well regarded in the evolutionary biology community (he characterized the citrate consuming bacteria after conducting what is still the largest genetic screen in academic history).”

Congratulations, Tanush, a beautiful example of leveraging the opportunity of a break between terms.