Written by: Karmella Haynes
Yesterday, our 16 students broke the ice by summarizing their lives and scientific work in two PowerPoint slides each. It was wonderfully efficient! The instructors (Dave, Jeff, Julius, and myself) used the information from those introductions to assemble four teams. Each team participated in four different, sub-projects headed by each instructor and their graduate teaching assistant: (1) RNA circuits in a cell-free system, (2) Light-controlled gene circuits, (3) Cell-cell communication by quorum sensing, and (4) Metabolic engineering of purple pigment (violacein) production.
The students will spend week 1 focusing on their assigned topic, then re-organize into new teams for week 2. Our hope is that creative new projects, or “mash-ups,” will emerge from cross-pollination of expertise. Today’s invited speaker Eric Klavins is almost a one-man personification of this kind of synergy-driven innovation. His talk demonstrated how his expertise in electrical engineering principles and practices, placed within the context of biology, produced insights into the behavior of living cell systems and how they can (and cannot) be controlled.
Imagine that the most highly respected scientists in your field flew in for a short visit to your lab just to assist your students with a project. I had heard that this kind of interaction is typical of the CSHL courses, but I was still amazed to see this first-hand in our group. Invited speakers Richard Murray, Eric Klavins, and Justin Gallivan spent some time with students modeling cellular systems with the Gro tool on one of our lab Macs. Pam Silver and Michael Jewett also stopped by to speak face-to-face with students as they worked in the lab.
Jeff Boeke came over to Beckman (our lab) from the yeast biology course to take a look at the turbidostat that was set up by Jeff Tabor’s graduate teaching assistant Evan.
My teaching assistant Rene has reported back to me several new ideas from conversations with the speakers as well as students. As a young assistant professor, I feel extremely fortunate to have some of the most highly regarded leaders in my field mentor one of my students while immersed in an active project. I can already see that this experience will be transformative for Rene as a budding synthetic biologist, and for me as well as a budding mentor.