Thursday, May 14, 2015

A World without Wrinkles

Tara and I are going to rid the world of the horrible skin disease known as wrinkles.

After 12 nerve-wracking minutes in front of the class, nifty laser-pointer in hand, the Red team closed out 20.109 with the last team presentation of the year.

The assignment: Devise a novel research idea and pitch it your peers and professors.

I was daunted at first at the idea of having to come up with something that had never been done before. In my mind, it seemed like the assignment was asking me to delve into the realm of science fiction and some unfathomable black hole of science that was far too advanced for me (OK, I was probably being a little too melodramatic).

We started out by brainstorming which module we wanted to base our research on. Mod1 and our investigation of the bird microbiome was the springboard for our final project, both of us excited by an offhanded comment that was discussed during the journal club presentations. The possibility of the use of the microbiome in forensic investigations was brought up briefly and the prospect of applying science to crime solving was fascinating.

I read a lot of papers on the development of microbiome analysis of hairs found at crime scenes, which lead me to papers about the diverse, yet also unique, microbiome of the skin. When Tara and I reconvened, we shared the different research that we had done on a variety of topics and honed in on one particularly interesting review paper on the skin microbiome by EA Grice.

While reading the future works section, we found the following statement: “The role of microbiota in skin aging, such as wrinkling and sagging, remains unclear and is an area where treatments based on the skin microbiota may offer promise”. At first we laughed at the prospect of studying wrinkles (isn’t that a field riddled with hokey, money-grabbing claims, cures, and remedies?). But then, we thought about it, did some investigation on the subject and found that it was a problem wide open for research. We had found our novel idea and we were going to run with it. (Turns out people actually take your future works sections seriously).

The thing about novel ideas is that there are bucket loads of questions that need to be answered, tangential problems that need to be considered. We did a lot of reading on wrinkles, skin aging, the skin microbiome, etc. and began pitching our ideas to the teaching staff and our peers.

For the most part, our idea was met with laughs and offhanded comments about wrinkly skin. Perhaps we found the idea too amusing for our own good but we took the beginning of our preparatory phase a little too lightly, tackling the problem at too broad of a level. It wasn’t until the day before the presentation that we realized we were lacking answers to some major questions and entered a frenzy of paper reading, interspersed with PowerPoint assembly and verbal practice.

Finally, our presentation came together and after 12 minutes (that I think went swimmingly!) we were done. And we had formulated a fairly coherent proposal for wrinkle microbiome research and a potential novel preventative treatment. It was a fun thought exercise and I learned a lot more about wrinkles and bacteria than I thought I would ever know. 

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