In module 1, we modified the DNA of a cell to elucidate aspects of homologous recombination. I currently UROP in the Runstadler lab, which teaches the first module in 20.109 for the Spring semester. When I first learned that our module 1 was about a subject that I was unfamiliar with, I was initially a bit bummed out. If I had taken 20.109 during the Spring, I would have "learned" about a module that I was already very familiar with. But having taken the Fall module 1, I was very happy to have learned about DNA engineering in terms of homologous recombination. This was a subject that I had never really learned about, and significantly shaped the research proposal Xander and I presented. It seems quite cheesy to say so, but I was glad to have learned about something new in 20.109 this semester rather than stay comfortable with subject matter I already knew.
In module 2, we optimized a synthetic biology system by introducing single amino acid mutations. Although the mutants we actually generated failed to improve the system, this was probably my favorite module. Once again, the concepts of biological systems I learned about influenced the microbiome aspects of my research proposal. Research in synthetic biology has the ability to perform really awesome tasks with living systems. Although we investigated a seemingly trivial bacterial photography system, investigating the inner workings of biology and applying them to engineering was just really...cool, for lack of a better word.
Although the shortest one, module 3 investigated the ability for biology to assemble more efficient dye sensitized solar cells. I went into this module not knowing a thing about biomaterials and what the hullabaloo about carbon nanotubes was all about. After all the work we've accomplished, I learned a new aspect of a very common idea in the class: that with clever techniques, one can manipulate biological systems to perform certain tasks.