Friday, February 22, 2013

Science teachers gone wild

My saliva is in the second column from the left, Deb's is the first and the bacterial competition is in columns 3 and 4.
My good friend Deb and I teach forensic science at a high school not far away.  Nothing delights us more (well, almost nothing) than learning new ideas we can use in the classroom.  Or just cool ideas.  We both signed up for a mini-course in biotechnology this weekend (Friday, 5-8 PM, and Saturday, 9-4) that promised us free books, lab books and the chance to see amylase (the protein in your saliva that helps begin the digestive process by converting starch to sugar) in action.  But wait!  There's more!  We will also receive free supplies to do this with our own students.

Although snacks were promised, Deb and I decided to go to dinner first.  We had a fun time sharing the hilarity that is always in abundant supply when anecdotes are exchanged.  Bellies full and hearts light, we zipped over to the biotechnology center at Tulsa Community College only to discover that we were expected to spit into microtest tubes (Eppendorfers, if you really must know) BEFORE WE PARTOOK OF ANY FOOD!  Since we arrived just a wee bit late, we missed the explanation of why this should be so, but I'm guessing that our saliva production would be more prodigious before we ate.  We were supposed to fill our tiny tubes with 2-3 mL and Deb had no problem.  I tried to think of mouth-watering delicacies, but alas, my juices weren't up to the task.  Deb kept making comments about how the whole idea of spitting in the tube was just disgusting and she was 'over it.'  Meanwhile, I concentrated and spat.  I might have accidentally dribbled some extraneous bodily fluids in places other than the test tube but I'm not confirming that at this time.

Once we had accomplished our task, we went back to the lab area to fill each well with either our very own salivary amylase or a pre-determined amount of bacterial amylase (we are obviously not the only critters that would like to utilize the sugary goodness locked away in starch).  I remained worried about my pathetically small amount of saliva and looked enviously at Deb's fine efforts.  While we were loading the wells with buffer solution, I kept surreptitiously trying to spit in my container.  Deb finally caught a glimpse of this and said, "Oh, geez!  Give it UP!"

To my surprise I had enough for 2 wells and a tad bit left over for the third well (one must always have replication in these experiments).  We then added an iodine solution that remained yellow in the wells with just sugar (indicating the amylase had done its job) or turned blue/black in the presence of starch.  As you can see by the microplate at the top of this blog, our negative controls worked AND even my third puny-effort-well had enough amylase to do its thing.  Oh, sweet success!

And that, my children, is how you spend a quality Friday evening: spitting, pipetting, and competing with the best that bacteria have to offer.  I can't wait until Saturday!


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