Aaron Perry


Y On Earth - Podcast Cover
Stewardship & Sustainability Series
Episode 78 - Maria Nikulkova, Mysterious Microbiology

Maria Nikulkova discusses the mysteries of microbiology found in soils, in bogs, and in other natural environments. As humanity’s computing and instrumentation capabilities continues to expand in ever-accelerating capacity and complexity, we are on the verge of a scientific revolution. We are at the fore of understanding the hitherto invisible and misunderstood realm of microbiology.

It is an extraordinary moment!

Ms. Nikulkova discusses how bioinformatics, systems modeling, and other computer-driven capabilities are foundational to our exploding knowledge of the microbiome. With a particular focus on Enigma Archaeatis, an entirely separate domain from the better known Eukaryotes and Bacteria, Maria shares how our increasing knowledge is central to understand the complexities of ecological restoration and climate change mitigation. She also mentions “extremophiles” and how creativity furthers scientific understanding. Getting in to the nitty-gritty of gene sequencing and genomic research which is central to her research, she discusses CRISPR (“Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palendromic Repeats). Naturally, our growing capabilities also raise new questions in the realm of bioethics, which Maria emphasizes as remarkably important. She also discusses how science in general, being fact and research based, creates an inclusive community for a diverse array of individuals driven by curiosity and strength in the STEM (“Science Technology, Engineering and Math”) subject areas.

Maria Nikulkova started working in the molecular biology field at the Miller lab at the University of Colorado – Denver as an undergraduate student (receiving a competitive Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) grant to support her work). After earning her B.S. in Biology in 2018 from CU Denver, she started in the CU Denver Biology MS program in Fall 2018. Currently, she is working on assembly, annotation, and interpretation of novel archaeal genomes from freshwater wetlands in the Miller lab, alongside collaborators in the Wrighton lab at Colorado State University. She plans to continue her studies at New York University in the coming years.





(Automatically generated transcript for search engine optimization and reference purposes – grammatical and spelling errors may exist.)

Hey friends, I hope you enjoyed this next podcast episode with Maria Nikulkova.

I want to let you know we actually recorded this this winter well before COVID broke out

in case you’re wondAarong about the context.

Hope you enjoy it.

Welcome to the YonEarth Community Podcast.

Today we are visiting with Maria Nikulkova.

I’m Maria.

Hello, Aaron.

Good to see you.

You too.

So nice to be here.

It’s great we have this opportunity to speak with you and I’m really excited about what

we’ll be talking about today.

Yeah, so we have quite a bit to cover.


So I’ll let our audience know that Maria Nicolcova started working in the molecular

biology field at the Miller Lab at the University of Colorado Denver as an

undergraduate student receiving a competitive undergraduate research opportunity program

grant to support her work.

And after earning her Bachelor of Science in Biology in 2018 from CU Denver, she started

in the CU Denver Biology Master of Science program in the fall.

Currently, she is working on assembly, annotation, and interpretation of novel archaeal genomes

from freshwater wetlands in the Miller Lab alongside collaborative collaborators in the

right and lab at Colorado State University.

So and Maria is also teaching at the University of Colorado both undergraduate and graduate


And Maria, it’s so cool to have this opportunity to talk with you a bit.

Today we’re going to be covAarong some science.

Yeah, we’re going to break down all that jargon.

You just mentioned in that last little bit.

It was great.



We can just start right with the wetlands, right, with the archaeal diversity.

That last sentence, usually people’s eyes kind of glaze over and they’re kind of like,

what do you do?

I thought you were in biology with all this other mumbo jumbo.

So generally, what I do right now is I do a lot of bioinformatics work, so that’s a lot

of computer work.

I like to make the joke that I don’t poke and prod squishy things even though I’m a biologist.

I do a lot of computational work, a lot of coding.

I see that black screen with the green font from the matrix much more often than I see

dead frogs.


Let’s put that way.


That paints a picture.


And so a lot of the, so the archaea, so they’re a type of organism, a microorganism, that

actually, historically, was always grouped together with bacteria, because they’re usually

single-cell microorganisms.

And they’re actually their own domain, so if going back to kind of that basic biology,

we have three domains.

We have eukaryotes, which is our cells, plant cells, all those fun, squishy, furry, slimy


Are you karyotic cells?

And then we have bacteria, which, unfortunately, we usually hear in the negative term, you

know, all those ecoli and all those bad, scary microbes that get a bad reputation, but

are kind of all around us.

And then we have archaea.

So evolutionarily, they were always put together until about the 1970s, when a scientist

called Carl Swose made that really a phenomenal paper, and he made that distinction showing

evolutionarily that really archaea are different from bacteria, and from then on, we’ve been

going forward at what I’d say is quite a fast pace, and then within the last, really the

field I’m in, got going much more quickly within the 2000s, right, with the big technology

boom, because a lot of archaea, they can’t be grown in a lab.

So a lot of bacteria, you can grow in a lab, you can see it on a petri dish, you can

see it in a microscope, you can’t grow archaea.

They’re so specific to their environment, they’re so odd compared to even different kinds

of bacteria, but they’re fascinating.

They have these crazy metabolisms, sometimes some of the ones that I’m looking at, they

potentially have hosts, and we just don’t know anything about them, but there’s this giant

biodiversity of things.

We just don’t know about, and it boggles my mind, so that’s what I do.

One of the things that I find absolutely astounding as a non-technical person, understanding

more and more the importance of the microbiome and soil in our own bodies, there’s really

this explosion of knowledge and understanding just in the last few decades, and yet we

still hardly understand these complex critters and systems that ultimately are essential

to the fabric of life on the planet, right?


So what’s interesting, especially that archaea, generally, is that the studies that started

with them were actually in these extreme environments, so that’s one of the first kinds

of archaea we see, are these extreme files as people like to call them, so they lived

in super-selfie environments, or deep, deep ocean, in places with lots of sulfur and hot

places like Yellowstone, and then for quite a bit, we thought, oh, okay, there are just

these extreme organisms that live in these extreme environments, but back to what you

were mentioning is that the work we do is in wetlands, that’s not an extreme environment

in any sense of the word, it’s not super moist, it’s not super dry, it’s just kind of a

met environment, you know, it’s not super-selfie, it’s usually pretty temperate, so the wetland

we work in is a temperate wetland, so there is no salt, it’s same type of plant cover,

you know, there’s not really particularly anything special about it, but we see this mass

diversity, so just even with that, how we see, you know, like that sequencing boom, that

DNA sequencing boom has really allowed us to go further than just these extreme environments

and get more into depth into environments we never thought would even have this kind

of diversity, and even that is still being uncovered, so specifically, at least for the

small amount of archaea that I’m looking at, I’m looking at a filing level, a filing level

is the next down from domain, so that’s, you know, if it’s like, oh, what do you do?

What is this?

Like we have to even know what an elephant is to start describing it, right, and so there

is these elephants in wetlands that we can’t describe, we don’t even know what they are,

how do you describe an elephant to someone when they don’t even have a concept of an elephant?


Okay, so this is interesting, so we’re talking about a phylum, I remember this king phylum,

something or other from school, and we’re saying, are these domains the same as like kingdoms

that we were taught about, or is that a little bit different?

Oh yes, so you’ll have your kingdom in domain, so those are the three main kingdoms or

three main domains, and then after that you get phylum in your king phylum, I think

I know which one you’re talking about, the king phylum came over for Good Spaghetti,

is that it?

Yes, seven, seven taxonomy levels, and that’s from a little bit, and a lot of microbial

research actually focuses on those bottom two, but Good Spaghetti, the genus and species,

so a common one, E coli, E genus coli species, archaea, a lot of it, we don’t know down

to the genus and species, we have domains, so we have archaea, and then the one right

after phylum, we don’t even know genus and species, we barely, we can’t even classify

my most of the things that at least I’m looking at, down to a class level, which is a major

grouping, it’s almost like saying all mushrooms, that’s crazy, so what does archaea matter,

what does it have to do with our day-to-day lives, and how is it potentially important

to some of these major systemic challenges we’re facing as a global society, whether

it’s pollution or climate change or what, how does it all kind of connect up to these

issues that most of us would be familiar with?

So a big part of that connection is going to be soil, right?

Soil is going to connect all of us, whether you like it or not, you interact with soil

daily, even if you walk on concrete, if you only walk on concrete, that’s a derivative

of soil, you’re walking on soil, or that concrete has interacted with the soil, it’s interacted

with that microbial community, that’s in that soil, everyone honors, even if you live

in a submarine, is interacting with soil, because what’s underneath that water?

Soil, so that’s going to be my mainframe, is that soil bit, and where that connection

comes in is that each soil environment, how you mentioned that got microbiome, each

soil environment has its own microbiome in a sense, it has its own microbial communities,

it has its own microbial niches, so it’s just, in a sense, it’s like a rainforest, right?

You can’t just take a single tree of a rainforest and say, oh, I now understand the rainforest

because I understand this single orchid that lives in this single tree, and I can understand

the whole ecosystem of the rainforest, microbial communities are just as complex, if not

more complex, with their metabolisms, because microbes do things like nitrogen cycling that

we rely on, and they’re some of the only ones that can convert, let’s say, elemental

forms of nitrogen to something that we can use, so we like to use any periodic cells

and other types of organisms, we like to use usually ammonium, that’s a form of nitrogen,

but atmospheric nitrogen, so in general, chemistry is, and with the subscript of two, just

that gaseous form of nitrogen, we can’t do anything with that, so even if there was an

abundance, and if there’s an abundance of all this nitrogen, we can’t do anything with

it, it’s not ammonium, it’s not in a form that we can use, and microbes can use that,

and they can convert it to these different forms of nitrogen, and nitrate, and nitrite,

and all these other, you know, ending products, but other kinds of cell can use, and so

where I’m going to kind of more dive deep into the white wetlands and all that, so darker

freshwater wetlands are actually the largest source of naturally emitting methane, and

which is a very powerful greenhouse gas right now, and I believe it will be a powerful

greenhouse gas, that we usually don’t associate with wetlands, a lot of the times it’s associated

with production and everything, and the thing is, when we make models for, let’s say methane

emission, we need to account for that natural methane as well, yes, we have that industrial

methane, but we also have that natural methane, and to create an accurate model, so we can

actually create accurate mathematical models, and then create potentially plants on how

to regulate it, and potentially where we can build, and what we can be around in that

regard, we need that accurate information, and a lot of that methane is coming from microbes,

and then what’s diving deeper down is that biodiversity aspect, is we’re losing a lot

of biodiversity, and we share that every day, but we share that in what I think is a grand

or scheme of things, and then we share them about larger organisms, so we share frogs,

we share mushrooms, we share all these sad things, but in that regard, microbes are being

lost just as quickly, but we don’t know about it, we don’t know about many of the species

that we’re losing, that we can see without a microscope, it’s hard to make people

care about something, not only can you not even see it under a microscope, you can only

see it in your computer, with DNA sequencing, so that’s kind of the larger funneled pictures

going from soil that affects us all, all the way down to these microbes that have actually

enormous potential for all of our methane cycling, our nitrogen cycling, our carbon

cycling, really all those big, big words when we talk about environments, and we talk

about methane emission and carbon emission, and all these issues that we’re having, they’re

all in interlaced with microbes.

So I’m so curious, because with the Y-Energ community, one of the things we’ve done

a lot with strategically is helping people connect the dots both mentally and viscerally

to the with the soil, and talk about the soil microbiome and how important it is, but

we can’t see it, and one of the things that boggles my mind is this issue of orders of magnitude

and size differences, and do you have any way of helping to explain like how small some

of these organisms actually are, is there a way to paint that picture for people?

I would say to some of the smaller microbes, which like I said, we can’t grow and everything,

it almost be like the difference between the tip of a pin and the size of all of ours.

That’s down there.

That’s boggling, right?


And not even the difference between a baseball and a basketball, right?

That can be that much of a difference.

That’s really incredible.

And I remember hearing that just blew my mind, and it may have been more with the bacteria

side of things, but that within the microbiome, there are organisms that are thousands of times

larger than other organisms, all of which are invisible to our eyes, right?

So there’s this whole universe of living critters that we cannot see without the aid of technology,


Yeah, so that is a lot of what we’ve been able to do to is with that sequencing.

So a lot of those critters, I really like that word, ginger, that, so a lot of the critters

that you mentioned, even if let’s say they’re big or small, some of them just, you can’t

even grow.

Like it doesn’t matter, even if it’s a big, if it’s something big that we could see

under a microscope, maybe it doesn’t want to grow a lab, we can’t grow it a lab.

And so that’s where that issue comes in with trying to determine also, let’s say the biodiversity

of your gut or the biodiversity of everything is a biodiversity, right?

So like the microbiome of your inner elbow is going to be different than the microbiome

of the top of your hand.

So just because of that difference, right?

So let’s say like your inner elbow, it gets probably exposed less to air than the top

of your hand.

So already there’s that difference in microbial composition.

But if I were to take a swab, let’s say of my hand, and I was to try and grow it on a

petri dish, like, and we call it like an all-media.

So something that accounts for at least most of the nutrients, again that’s going to be

only conducive to organisms that can grow in a lab.

So there are organisms on there that I don’t know what they’re like just because they’re

not growing, because they don’t have the proper conditions and you’ll never find a medium.

That’s not all medium, like we call it all medium, but it’s not, it’s not going to encompass


So you have to make adjustments for that.

So what sequencing, that DNA sequencing has a lot of to do, is kind of in environment

is to, in a sense, take that swab and then from that environment just sequence out all

the DNA.

Oh, interesting.


And so you can get a better picture of something just because even if it’s not growing,

you might be able to see it in your computer, you’re like, oh, that’s weird, there’s this

chunk of DNA or this genome, so the genome is all the DNA that makes up our cells, makes

up all cells.

It’s all that genetic code.

And so you might see something like, oh, this doesn’t relate to any of the other large

critters that we have or that we’ve been able to grow, but they’re here, so something

is here.

How do you know if you’re looking at genetic sequences, how do you know that this sequence

over here belongs to some, what’s the word I’m looking for, Archaia, is that right?


Versus it’s part of a gene of a large organism.

Like how do you even know what it is you’re looking at and like, where it belongs in that

organization of biology?

A lot of the answer is going to be, we don’t.

So we have references for a lot of the sequences started with things we did now, so we sequence


Like, okay, we’re pretty sure of this genome, that’s pretty cool, I like to see easy

cool as an example, because most people have at least, if not negatively heard about it.

So we generally know the DNA sequence of, and so from there you can kind of go, okay,

so we have these other things that we’ve grown as a lab, but we have the genetic sequence

for those, and then we have something else that we don’t know yet, and you know, you just

kind of put a question mark around it.


That is interesting, and so it is kind of a game of Tetris in that regard, so you’re trying

to piece it together and get that row.

It’s like a massive puzzle, huh?

It’s a massive puzzle, and the thing is, especially our kill research, it’s that tree, so if

you, like, like a hyalogenetic tree, so that tree that separates bacteria in one branch

and us in another branch, and Archaean, another branch, and it’s all kind of together.

Those are changing, but it’s not a static structure, so you know, you might have a research

paper that comes out and says, oh, this Archaean, I work with Endigma Archaeota, so I’m just

going to say, that one, yeah, it’s an Inigma, because we don’t know anything about it.

Billy, but.

Yeah, so it’s a phylum, and let’s say the paper comes out and says, it has to be within

this branch and in this branch, so it gives it a set area for it to be in, and then

I sequence some things, I use some computational methods, and some statistical models, and

I look at their model and I say, I don’t agree.

I don’t think it does belong here, I think, you know, it could be here or here, so everything

is also for something like that you can’t grow and something that you’re not sure of,

it’s also based on statistics.

So some statistical models are going to be more sure or less sure, so there’s always

a percentage associated with it, which I think scientists get a bad rap for, because you’ll

never hear a scientist say, I’m 100% sure that this is the truth.

You know, the ARC squared problem basically, yeah.

So I think that also is a big part of it, is that how much do you trust your statistical

model, and we run a lot of them, you know, we don’t run just one and say, yeah, we’re

good to go, that’s not out and publish this paper.

We run quite a few and then whatever statistical model best suits that tree is what we’ll take

into consideration.

Again, it’s not, it might not be publishably, it might not be anything, but we’re taking

it into consideration.

So there’s a lot of stepwise process that comes between us making something in the lab

or us doing something in the lab, and it’s going out into a published research paper.

So there’s quite a few steps in between there, and there’s also reviews and peer reviews,

and there’s quite a few steps that try to account for those errors.

And yeah, it sounds like it’s a very sophisticated and well-defined process regarding things that

are very difficult to understand, things that a few decades ago we hardly even knew existed.

And here they are, absolutely affecting our lives as human beings on the planet, dealing

with these issues that we’re dealing with, right, and to continue to tie this discussion

back. I’m so struck by, in our culture, there can be this incredible gap between folks

who work in the sciences and or have friends who work in the sciences, and at least have

some appreciation for those procedures and how that body of knowledge is developed.

And then there are a lot of us who don’t have any familiarity with science, and perhaps

moreover, had a negative experience back in, you know, ninth grade or whatever, and it’s

not a comfortable territory, and I think it’s really interesting to explore how do we attempt

to communicate from a highly technical, incredibly mathematically-based way of understanding knowledge

to folks for whom those maybe aren’t as well-developed or easily acquired as a set of skills, right?

And I’m struck that you use visualization a lot, I know, I want to make sure to ask

you about that, but go ahead.

It’s funny that you mentioned that high school example. In high school, one of my biology

teachers said, I was really worried about human biology. I don’t think you’ll make it as

biology, maybe you should do something else.

That’s a terrible thing.

That was an exact, actual example, and it’s like, I’m going to show you.

I love that.

So I definitely can see where people are coming from that, because I have definitely had

that experience where the teacher was like, nope, I don’t think you’re going to do great

in this field, or maybe you should pursue something else.

Have you tried the literary department, and I kind of, like, oh, no, it’s a little rough.

So I think when you mention visualization, that’s why I like to use visualization so much.

I’m very much a visual person. I am in no way a computer person.

That is not me. That is my big brother. He was always much more the computer person.

Big brother.

Yeah, the big brother.

Big brother, Art and Mikkel Cobb. He’s here in the room with actually off camera.

So this is a quick shout out.


Hi, everyone.

It’s great.

He was always kind of more the technical, more the computer and everything.

And the person that you go to, and you’re like, my computer is broken.



I was never in that, I was never in that real technical mindset, but there’s something

to be said that science is a lot of creativity too.

And which, actually, that’s one of the things I started to enjoy about science is that

once I started to kind of get more into science and see some of these interesting things,

that we’re just coming out of news articles.

Some of the best things that I learned were from visualizations, like a very well-defined

3D model or something, because I didn’t, you know, I couldn’t bridge through that three

and a half paragraphs of equations or formulas or just made my eyes cross.

I think I need to do something else.

So that’s part of what I like to do in terms of visualization is and trying to come up

with metaphors that sometimes works, sometimes don’t, for trying to imagine these things.

How do you imagine something you don’t know, how to imagine?

It’s such an interesting question that’s almost like a co-on.

Well, and I know from our previous conversations that in addition to all the work you’re doing

in biology and with science and with computer modeling, you’re also an artist and a


And according to Artim, we’ll let Artim say it, an illustrious corner, and incredibly

different talented artisks in the true sense of the word.

I appreciate the vote of confidence, I don’t know, I think it’s a good, well-rounded

way to get away from those statistics from those computers.

And to do something that just seems odd almost at times, even though drawing comes more naturally

to me than computers, at this point, I’m with computers so much that it’s almost going

back to drawing, sometimes it feels odd, like, what do I do here, what’s interesting?

Yeah, so it’s that different mindset.

And sometimes that kind of almost meditative drawing bit has helped me, you know, like,

oh yeah, that’s why my computer code didn’t work, and then I’ll rush back to my computer.


I love that.

I love that.

As a writer, I’ve experienced that where if I’m painting or drawing or even sometimes

cooking, insights, it seems like certain thoughts will crystallize and it seems that having

some balance and different activities probably helps us in our primary area of focus in ways

perhaps that isn’t always obvious.


I always liked, I think it was that Roman model of like the perfect soldier, it was a triangle.

And the top of the triangle was like athleticism and, you know, like the physicality of it.

One of the sides of the triangle was, one of the points was like intellectualism and

like reading and all that.

And the other side was more of that creativity aspect.

And so that made almost like a perfect Roman soldier because he would be able to be creative

and both athletic and intellectual.

And I don’t know, I kind of like that model too is, you know, you can’t, if you’re too heavy

on one side, kind of sex tip over or you get so narrow narrowly into it that it’s kind

of hard to see all around you.


So I met some brilliant peoples and they were so smart.

I mean, just unbelievably smart with statistics and math and everything, but it was just so


And I’m like, I just, I need that extra conversation because I like things outside of science.


I, right now I consider myself a scientist, which is also still a little odd for me.

I’m just like, oh, I’m still a student scientist.

I don’t know what I do.

I just exist in this world of soil, but having that more rounded aspect really helps


Ground to me.


That’s really beautiful.

Well, let me just take a moment to remind our audience that this is the Writers Community


And today I am visiting with Maria Nicolcolva, who is sister’s, sister of Adam Nicolcolva,

who’s also in the room here with us.

And it’s a great segue and opportunity to thank our supporters who include Earth Coast

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And thanks to everybody for your support for making this podcast series possible and

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and cultural healing.

And so excited about the projects we’ve got underway this year.

And Maria, it’s such a joy to have the opportunity to sort of peep behind the curtain as to what’s

going on in the sciences right now, around microbiome and what we know, what we don’t know and

what we don’t know.

I love that arrangement of sort of our knowledge structure.

And I’m just wondAarong when you’re working with wetlands and you’re thinking about something

like climate change, what’s your sense, like if you’re to speak to a university assembly

of folks who can do things about climate change, how might wetlands play into this and what

might we do differently as society that would help us with this challenge?

So part of wetlands, what I think is fascinating is that we have a terrible history of

dredging them up because they’re useless quote unquote, right?

Like I said, they’re not an extremely hot environment, they’re not an extremely cold


They’re kind of easy to drive out and we have all the possibilities to do so.

And we have for quite a bit of time actually, if you think about New York or Seattle or

something, a lot of those places were either like ocean and then as you go further in,

it’s wetland.

And so a lot of these cities have had to, you know, have pumping systems and all these

crazy mechanisms to basically get rid of something that was already naturally there.

I mean, don’t get me wrong.

I love New York.

It’s a fun place.

My brother and I visited Seattle, Seattle was lovely.

I don’t want to talk about the cities.

It’s just that history of what we’ve been kind of doing with wetlands.

And what now is happening with wetlands is that we still kind of do that, you know.

They don’t get as much attention as some of the other, you know, being beautiful parts

of nature that we have, say, our mountains are, you know, they’re beautiful.

There’s snow caps, they’re picturesque.

Wetlands can be picturesque, but maybe not as much as a snow caps mountain for a postcard.

So I think there’s that aspect of biodiversity that not all important things aren’t going

to be the most beautiful things.


That’s such an important message.

So, and wetlands, I think, really fall into that category.

I think wetlands can be very beautiful.

It’s just sometimes they kind of get fallen onto the wayside compared to some of the other


Oh, interesting.

So, it sounds like we should consider further protecting the wetlands and perhaps even

in some places doing what we can to restore what it’s been drained or dredged or whatever

it has been.

It’s interesting because a lot of our historical development as a species has been a major

river estuaries, right?

We used to do most of our travel and shipping by sea by water.

And it would make sense that we would have these major settlements at the mouths of rivers

and so forth, but that turns out these are also where wetlands are located, right?

And I don’t think, you know, completely getting rid of settlements from around there.

All of this ultimately, when I think about at least climate change and all these people

doing this wonderful work and everything, all of that I think has to culminate with us

not dredging up and concreting and paving the earth, right?

You can pave parts, but at least some parts unpaved.

It’s all going to come to, I want to say, like an ecosystem where we have to have certain

harmonies and almost cliches that sounds right now, which is another thing.

I think it’s all that, you know, cliches, some of them are there for a reason, right?

Harmony is harmony.

It’s a wonderful world that we’ve been kind of overusing to mean certain different things,

but yeah, I think part of that, so how you mentioned that we used the mouths of rivers

for transporting things.

I don’t see why we can leave that river there.

We can still live around it.

We can still have big green spaces.

We can have the natural wetland that’s there.

So instead of, you know, dredging out even, like, say, a wetland and putting a park there.


Just leave that wetland there.

Leave it as it is.


Oh, that’s really, really.

So I want to make sure to hit on something that you shared before we started recording that

excites me because it’s just so far beyond my technical expertise, and it’s this thing

called CRISPR, and I thought it would be fun just to share a little with the audience

about some of the highly technical stuff that you’re engaged in.

And so can you tell us what’s CRISPR and what is it stand for and why is it important?

So a lot of CRISPR has actually been in the news lately.

A lot of it’s actually getting some bad press.

So it’s the technology right now that we’re using for gene editing.

The reason I brought it up is actually, so you mentioned that to your audience that

I was teaching or co-teaching right now, I’m going to like it a lot.

And so we used CRISPR technology in that molecular allowed for gene editing.

So gene editing certain proteins into certain types of cells.

So inserting a part of a genome or a part of a DNA sequence that encodes for a certain

feature that was not previously in that cell.

And so CRISPR, sometimes often called CRISPR Cas9 because Cas9 is the protein associated

with it, was actually first discovered in California, the University of California.

And it is a naturally occurring mechanism in bacteria that allows the bacteria to fight


It’s like a snipping tool.

So it can cut out certain parts of the DNA so that the bacteria is no longer affected

by a virus, that virus is DNA.

And what researchers brilliantly figured out at the University of California is that these

CRISPR systems, they’re often called are highly conserved.

So they’re in more than just bacteria and they can be inserted into other organisms

and other types of cells.

And so that’s where there’s a lot of bioethics and a lot of bioethics committees.

So I think the far reaching kind of fear is that film Gatica, right?

If you’ve seen that where people are gene editing themselves and picking their children based

on their eye color in all the science section.

And when you hear it in the news, it’s always kind of worst case scenario too.

And I’m not saying we shouldn’t think about worst case scenario because, right, you

can’t, we were so in fixed even like in a science fiction culture to always have this

worst case scenario of science that it’s almost impossible, I think, to have that separate

from real science as opposed to science fiction.

But the reason I kind of brought that up is that it’s actually something that’s going

on in molecular lab.

This isn’t specialists, these aren’t PhDs and postdocs and doctors and these people

that have crazy qualifications way, way above mine.

All right, these will be universities.

This is something in molecular labs.

So something that’s accessible, which I personally think is wonderful, I think science

as a community in itself has been becoming more accepting and trying to increase diversity

and I mean, still has a way to go every instant as a way to go.

But ultimately, when you can incorporate, in a sense, difficult concepts into teaching

labs, again, you increase that accessibility to students and that really is also kind

of that bridge where you were saying kind of that connection as well.


Well, and it’s so great, Maria, to have this opportunity to visit with you today and I

think it’s probably an opportunity for a lot of folks connected through the wider community

to hear some more from a scientist about things that I imagine a lot of us don’t have direct

experience or knowledge of and it’s been a real joy and I want to thank you for visiting

with us and before we sign off for today, I’m wondAarong if there’s anything else you’d

like to share about the work you’re doing and or to the liners community, the audience

in general.

Yeah, so thanks for having me.

Really, I think my main message is that science is much more accessible than people like

to think it is.

It’s not white males and lab coats at Harvard.

It is a diverse community and it’s actually one of the more accepting communities that

I’ve luckily become a part of going to conferences and I’ve met people from all around the world

and that’s just been amazing.

But that opportunity only started because I was able to kind of show my curiosity in science.

So I think that’s the main thing is that as soon as you show your curiosity, you know,

you can reach out to scientists.

They’re not like the scientist as an entity.

They’re not a big brother sitting in a corner, right?

Watching over your podcast, but they, they’re people and they have websites.

If you like certain type of research, so say you’re really interested in what we’ve talked

about today.

Go on a researcher’s website.

If you’re really interested, I don’t know, in giraffe research.

There’s researchers that focus their entire careers on giraffes, which is I think fantastic.

But anything you’re interested in, there’s a researcher probably out there either doing

it or looking for someone to help them do it.

And I think reaching out, showing your curiosity, science has become much more inclusive if

I can say that.

And I usually, scientists are curious people as far as the ones I’ve luckily encountered.

And sure, maybe you’ll have one guy that’s like, no, I don’t want to do this.

This is my giraffe research.

I don’t want anyone involved in it.

You’re like, okay, you know what, there’s someone else looking at this.

And so I think that accessibility, that science is accessible to everyone, is kind of that

message that I want to put out there.

That’s really wonderful.

And I’ll mention to the audience, in our show notes, we’ll have links to a couple of

the resources that you’ve shared.

One is the Miller Lab, where Maria does some of her work.

And if you go to microbial.systems, you can get to Miller Lab and the Wright and Lab,

which was also mentioned up at Colorado State University is at Wright and Lab.

And that’s Wright and with a W. And of course, in the show notes, we’ll have the spelling

for all of that and links for you.

But, Maria, and I hope we can also share an example of the visualization modeling that

you do to give people a bit of a visual experience that they can check out.

And it’s been such a joy talking with you, Maria.

My mind’s a little boggled with some of these concepts and some of the amazing diversity

and the things that are being discovered right now and worked with.

And I really appreciate you taking the time to visit with us.

Yeah, well, thanks for having me, I really appreciate it, and I’ll be back anytime you want.

That sounds great.


Thanks, Maria.

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