Over the course of the next few weeks, we’re going to introduce you to the undergraduate students and recent grads who work hard behind-the-scenes to keep Your Wild Life ticking.
Today, sophomore Justin Hills explains the in’s and out’s of DNA extraction.
Cotton swab? Check. Belly button? Check. Three seconds of wondering, “What am I doing?” Check. But finally, you just did it. You swabbed your belly button (or door sill or armpit…) and returned your samples back to the Dunn Lab at NC State University. So what happens now? What classified operations will take place in the lab to unlock the secrets of the microbes living in your navel?
In order for us to identify who’s who among your belly buddies, we have to crack the microbes’ genetic code – we need to read their DNA. Today, we’re going to give you a backstage pass to the first step in this process – DNA extraction.
The goal of DNA extractions is to lyse, or break-up, cells and separate out the DNA from other material in the cells and the environmental debris that might be floating around in the sample. We use a soapy, detergent solution to break apart the cell membrane (because it’s largely made up of fat molecules), and tiny glass beads to grab hold of the DNA inside. Then, through a series of chemical washes and high-speed spins, we’re able to get rid of all the other stuff from the busted up cells (particularly the proteins). In the end, we’re left with just a tube of DNA.
Here’s a slide show of the steps we take in the lab: