Note: This article was written by Daria Sharko, a biotech student at MiraCosta College in California. Ms. Sharko contributed the photos as well.
Having biotechnology classes during the pandemic took an unexpected turn in Fall 2020. As an international student of the AS biotechnology program at MiraCosta College, I was preparing myself for a challenging atmosphere of COVID-19-impacted classes on campus. At least, the full PPE and the do-not-breath, do-not-touch ambiance of strict safety restrictions were anticipated. My experience with virtual labs and simulations last semester when colleges and students had to adapt to the rapidly changing quarantine situation was interesting but quite challenging due to the deprivation of the real practice. Therefore, having an opportunity for hands-on experience in the lab classes again seemed promising, even with all possible limitations. However, until the very last moment, neither I nor my classmates knew what the new fall semester would bring.
This uncertainty was soon dispelled by the Department of Biotechnology of MiraCosta College. With help of CARES Act funding provided by the federal government in response to the pandemic, the faculty and staff were able to prepare incredible at-home lab kits for students. Among only a few colleges practicing this approach to adapt to COVID-19, MiraCosta supplied multiple biotechnology classes with lab equipment and consumables for at-home editions of courses. Complete with compact MiniOne PCR and Gel Electrophoresis systems, as well as precast gels and buffer reagents, our DNA Amplification class turned into an absolutely sustainable quarantine-ready version.
The provided apparatuses allowed us to amplify desired DNA fragments using the conventional PCR method at home in a short time. Moreover, assessing the results by a compact gel electrophoresis machine and supplemented GelGreen was a life-changing experience. With no Ethidium Bromide, no UV light was necessary for viewing gels, and embedded blue light was applied instead. Also, the absence of high voltage wires and power supply were a nice complement.
Nothing could beat the feeling that you are a true scientist when you have a cryobox with DNA samples in the freezer sandwiched between fish sticks and frozen bacon.
It was complex to convey the feelings when you performed real experiments at your own pace with all the lab safety, MSDSs, and protocols yours to rule. Of course, all activities were specially adjusted for using chemicals and equipment that were safe for home lab experiments. And we had online support provided by our instructor all the time, but we did not have familiar physical supervision you experience on campus.
At first, it felt a bit scary, yet very exciting at the same time. Responsibility mixed with a sense of complete freedom made you feel like a queen of the lab, which was truly incredible and breathtaking. What else to wish? Perhaps a working AC to protect the reagents from degradation in the Southern California heat. Undoubtedly, this was an absolutely incomparable and unprecedented experience for all the lucky biotechnology students of MiraCosta College. Because nothing could beat the feeling that you are a true scientist when you have a cryobox with DNA samples in the freezer sandwiched between fish sticks and frozen bacon.