By Karen Galvan
We have made small breakthroughs in the lab as well as in solidifying our project procedures. In the lab, we have finally discovered the possible causes of previous inconclusive results!
We suspect that the gel electrophoresis results were not showing up as expected because the water we used to prepare the samples was exposed to too much human DNAse, so we have changed our DNA extraction method to a simple microwave after confirming its effectiveness, and also adjusted the annealing temperature of the thermocycler for Polymerase Chain Reaction. In short, we are on our way to knowing what mysterious microbe was growing in the salted beef made last Fall.
Of course, none of the lab efforts matter without proper execution of the experiment. The team has been meeting weekly and discussing our ideas for how to retrieve and store the individual food samples in the most controlled fashion to retain as much consistency as possible and reduce contamination of the food remains. We will be preparing salted beef, pork, and cod, oatmeal, peas, ship biscuits, and beer. We plan on collecting 3 samples per food item regularly: 2 that are raw for microbial testing and the other that will be cooked and used for microbial and nutritional testing. For now, we are individually designing specific collection protocols for the each food item, and coming up with a proper way to store all of the samples for the car ride back to College Station, TX given it is approximately a 2 to 3 hour drive back. We are also coming up with important variables to monitor and record. For example, we will be recording the temperature, pH, and volume level of the brine in the barrels, and noting the color of the foods as soon as they come out of the casks.
One of the most crucial aspects to control is retrieving samples without exposing the food to stray microbes. One of the team members, Rogelio Casas, has been designing an integrated sensor pump that will allow us to execute the aforementioned. The lab team members are currently reviewing research on which microbes we expect to find in the salted beef and pork so that we can have an idea of what to expect once the project launches and in which kind of media to grow the bacteria given their unusual environment.
Stay tuned to hear our progress on both our wine-making experiment and environmental sensor in the next few posts!