Week 6: Microbiome + CSNI Visit


This week, we learned about the human microbiome and also took a visit to the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA. For Monday’s lecture, we watched Youtube videos on the microbiome and its relationship with food and the human body. They play a huge role in determining health within the human body. The gut microbiome is responsible for helping digestions by breaking down foods, the development of the immune system, preventing infections, and the synthesis of essential nutrients and short chain fatty acids.[1] What is especially fascinating to me is that every person has an entirely unique network of microbiota that is initially defined by one’s DNA. When you are an infant, the microorganisms you are exposed to depends strictly on whatever species is found in the mother. As you grow up, environmental exposures and diet can alter your microbiome to be either healthy or at risk for disease.[2]


Furthermore, for Wednesday’s class, we got to explore the other side of the UCLA campus for a bit. The days where we leave the classroom and explore biotech elements in person are always my favorite because, as a visual learner, I feel like I’m able to absorb more information in this engaging way. At the UCLA California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, we first visited Professor Victoria Vesna’s piece titled Noise Aquarium. This interactive work featured 3D rendered sea plankton and showcased the alarming issue of noise pollution harming one of the most vital and important organisms on Earth. Each participant stood on an interactive board, where they attempted to balance and keep the plankton in the middle of the screen. If you were successful, you would hear whale noises, and if you weren’t, noise pollution (such as fracking, boats, etc) would mean game over. Sea plankton are important because they get their energy from carbon dioxide, similar to the way plants do in photosynthesis. This means that they are a crucial component within the carbon cycle and marine ecosystems. Some researchers even suggest that the decrease in plankton, due to harmful realities such as noise pollution,  is directly correlated to worsening climate change.[3] Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, also negatively affect the lives of sea plankton. As global warming worsens, this species is in danger of becoming extinct.[4]


After this, we then visited an electron microscope and the researchers behind creating an atomic printer on our very own UCLA campus. An electron microscope uses electrons to create an extremely high magnification of its target, and is something I’d never seen in person before.[5] This took place in an underground lab room, which truly took a toll on my claustrophobia. It was interesting to see a lab setting in person, especially coming from a North Campus major and study setting. Additionally, a lot of the information shared was extremely detailed, but I was still able to understand the general concepts regarding what the researchers were working towards achieving. I also really enjoyed viewing the book Professor Henri Lucas’ put together regarding this research. 

[1] http://worldmicrobiomeday.com/human-microbiome/
[2] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/
[3] http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/215na5_en.pdf
[4] https://psmag.com/environment/global-warming-is-putting-phytoplankton-in-danger
[5] https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/electron_microscope.htm