Shalom! My name is Sabrina Liu, and I am a rising junior from MIT interning at the Mizrahi lab this summer through the MISTI Israel program. Though I am majoring in Biological Engineering, most of the previous research I was involved in at the Koch Institute involved mechanical engineering in relation to biomedical devices. I was excited to not only work in the Mizrahi lab and learn wet lab/analysis techniques directly related to my major, but to meet diverse people and immerse myself in a new culture!
The lab’s kindness embraced me as soon as I arrived in Israel. Since it was Shabbat and I had no room at the UTel, Nili was gracious enough to let me stay the night at her flat. The next day, I was enthusiastically welcomed into the lab and met everyone at lunch. I began working with Itai, the lab tech, immediately. Our project was to analyze the gut microbiome of marine iguanas from the Galapagos Islands in hopes of better understanding their significant population collapse, due to increased growth of invasive brown algae with increased El Niño events. We would first conduct 16s rRNA sequencing of around 130 marine iguana fecal samples from the Galapagos, then analyze the results to study the gut microbes.
I really appreciated Itai’s mentorship and patience as he explained what we would do for each step of the project and the motives. All other lab members were very kind as well and even showed me places to get food on campus (and translated for me when purchasing lunch!), as well as recommending good restaurants/bars in Beer Sheva.
On Thursday, I experienced my first Mizrahi lab meeting, which starts every Thursday at 2pm, usually with an undefined end time. Lunch is always served, and this week it was homemade couscous, which I found extremely delicious! I found the meeting itself to be pretty intense, as I was unfamiliar with a lot of the material, but I was very grateful that Itzik paused to explain things, such as PCA graphs, which might be seemingly trivial to others. Though intense, I actually had a lot of fun and learned a lot in those few hours!
In mid-June, we had a guest from Portugal. Her name was Amaranta, and she was a good friend of Itzik and several others in the lab. Itzik invited her, Omar, Delia, and me to go on a desert hike. I had a lot of fun talking with them in the car ride, hiking, and then swimming in a natural spring! I was really grateful that Itzik invited me and felt even closer with the lab now.
Lab work continued, and as with all things worth doing in life, Itai and I faced some struggles. We had issues with unsuccessful samples after 16s PCR, finicky robots, and problems with qPCR as well. However, failure was not a taboo topic in this lab, which I loved. Lab members discuss what went wrong in their experiments and ask others for advice all the time, and everyone is happy to provide input.
At the start of July, I attended a microbiology conference held at BGU, which was my first conference. It was an awesome experience and super educational. I was able to hear presentations from so many academics and tried to absorb as much information as I could. I also really enjoyed meeting people from Israel who were all passionate about science, specifically microbiology.
It is now the end of July, and I have less than three weeks left with the lab. We finally have our sequencing results, and I am now using Qiime2 and R for the first time to process and analyze the data. I am learning so much, though I spend most of the time fighting with the computer (as Itai puts it). I’m super grateful that I was able to join this lab for the summer, and I plan on making the most out of my remaining time here in Israel!