Posts by Lisa McDonald

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2011 Internship Program Updated

The 2011 JCVI Internship Program is open to accept spring and summer applications. The application process includes the submission of a resume, essay and transcripts as one PDF file via our online application site. We no longer require letters of recommendation.

Information about the 2011 program can be found at

Hopefully this winter, we won’t be hit with two MAJOR snow storms in Maryland that shut all the schools, the federal government and JCVI down for several days the week applications were due! I don’t think they are calling for much snow this year in the Washington Metropolitan Area. Of course, that is not a problem for our colleagues in San Diego.

JCVI Rockville February 2010

JCVI Rockville February 2010

Some interesting facts about the summer internships from last year:

366 applicants applied online
44 Interns were selected:

8 high school students
19 undergraduate students
13 graduate students
4 secondary teachers

12 of the 44 were in San Diego and 32 in Rockville

The intern projects ranged across the Institute:

  • Shewanella oneidensis Growth in Chemostats
  • Purification and Characterization of a Pyrenoid Localized Decarboxylase
  • M. mycoides Minimalization: Combinatorial Assembly
  • Molecular Detection of Temperate Phages and Lysogens in the Marine Environment
  • Comparing the Performance of Short-Read Genome Assemblers
  • Phylogenetic Analysis of Cecal Microbiota in Alcohol-Induced Dysbacteriotic Mice, and Comparison of Pyrosequencing and Sanger Sequencing Technologies
  • Laboratory Research and Environmental Health & Safety (included making a safety video)
  • The Role of Accounting

Good luck to all the applicants this year!

USA Science & Engineering Festival

What a great weekend! Thousands of people attended the USA Science and Engineering Festival.  There were exhibits and performances for everyone, every age and every interest!

Open for business!

The DiscoverGenomics! Mobile Lab was there – Pennsylvania Avenue with several other mobile labs from across the country. We were just down the street from the Capital.

Looking down Pennsylvania Avenue - the Capital!

Building upon our previous exhibits, people were exposed to how genomics is being used to better understand the microbial diversity of our world at the Institute.  In addition, we looked at how microbes can be “put to work” via microbial fuel cells – even to facilitate the treatments of waste water.  Fascinating!!

Greg Wanger describing what is under the microscopes.

We started with exploring the amazing microbial world of the Rockville Campus storm pond.  Greg Wanger was the master at the scopes.  We had beatiful cyanobacteria from the green slime edge not to mention all the spirochettes and rod-shaped bacterium swimming by – even a few daphnia, worms and other organisms made an appearance as well!

From there, we learned how we can study these microorganisms from the enviroment through creating mini-eco systems with the pond mud.  Its amazing that there are so many unknown bacteria.  What are they doing?

We put them to work in the mud fuel cell.  Here – we could actually measure their power.  How do bacteria transfer electrons? What type are the most effecient? These are some basic questions we can answer with genomics.   

 Finally, we really put the bacteria to work with the waste water.  You may recall, Orianna Brestchger posted “Waste-to-Electricity” in January.  She wrapped up the exhibit with models of the fuel cell and data.

Orianna Brestchger discussing her project.

We had several JCVI staff helping Greg and Orianna: Crystal Snowden, Monica Thomas, Darryl Bronson, Jason Miller, Marcus Jones, Elaine Fox, Bea Gallogly, Matt LaPointe and Jasmine Pollard. 

There were lines all day!

Happy DNA Day!!

Happy DNA Day!!

This past March, we had a great time participating in the science programs in San Diego. We ended the month with the SD Science Festival with over 30,000 participants. It was such a busy day – I forgot to take pictures. The venue was Petco Park with hundreds of exhibits and hands-on experiences. We had our sediment batteries and microscopes.

With the thaw in Maryland from the multiple snow storms, April is beginning to show signs of spring including the Rockville Science Day. This will take place this Sunday, April 25 at Montgomery College, Rockville Campus. We should be easy to find – look for a big black bus.

In addition to the spring festivals and our school visits, behind the scenes we’ve been busy reviewing/selecting interns and setting up our summer professional development schedule. We had over 360 applicants this year to our internship program from all over the US and world. The blizzards this winter didn’t hold back the applicants. Notifications were be emailed to all on Friday, April 16th to the email address provided on the application. The applicants were so impressive!! Unfortunately we are not able to host everyone.

Our professional development programs were announced this month with support from Life Technologies Foundation. We are fortunate to be able to partner with such generous sponsors to bring these programs to fruition. We are REALLY excited about this year’s programs. They are filling up. California is almost FULL – be sure to send your application in. Maryland has room still – but don’t delay.

On that note, the Genomics Course for Educators on both coasts have biodiversity as the research theme. Our understanding of the diversity of life barely scratches the surfaces (literally). There are so many bacteria on and in our planet, not to mention our bodies – we are just beginning to know they exist – let alone, understand their significance. Even in our macro world, not every species has been catalogued! So much work to be done!!!

We are partnering with the Canadian Barcoding of Life Network with several other organizations in the MacArthur HASTAC Digital Media and Learning Competition. The project is to develop a fun science social networking site to encourage students to participate as citizen scientists and participate in developing a digital list of all organisms around the country and world. Please review the video at the link below and provide comments. It is important that the comments are added via the HSTAC site – the YouTube comments do not carry over. These comments are used in the decision making for funding.

Thanks for your support!!!

And, again, Happy DNA Day!!!

We Had Fun with Genomics!!

BEWiSE March 6 & 13 at JCVI

BEWiSE March 6 & 13 at JCVI

Wow! It’s been an exciting week!! Crystal Snowden and I flew to San Diego Friday, March 5th – jumped off the plane and the fun began!  We went straight to the lab and set up for BEWiSE and prepped for Expanding Your Horizons (EYH).  We are really fortunate to have such a great team in the San Diego facility.

Saturday started early with Crystal Snowden heading out to EYH at University of San Diego.  I did not go, but Crystal said it was an AWESOME time.  She worked with 45 young ladies.  The students learned about Winograsky columns and how the environmental organisms contributed to the microbial fuel cells and waste water treatment.  They prepared microscope slides by staining bacteria and viewed them under the microscopes.  The participants ranged in age from 12 to 16.  Unfortunately, Crystal was too busy to take pictures!  The quote of the day was, “This is AWESOME!”

Pipetting in the lab

Pipetting in the lab

While Crystal was busy at USD, Orianna Bretschger, Shino Ishii, Angela Wu, Eric Son and I hosted 16 young ladies from BEWiSE. Our day started early too at 9:00, running through 2:30.  We learned about genomics, microbial fuel cells and waste water treatment.  In the labs, the girls mastered pipetting and DNA extraction culminating with DNA isolation from the Winograsky columns.  The day ended with setting up PCR of the DNA isolates.  It was like riding a lab train.

Orianna Bretschger is helping get the mud samples - stinky!!

Orianna Bretschger is helping get the mud samples - stinky!!

During the week, Crystal finished the students’ samples through library construction and the second PCR.  The samples then traveled east to Rockville for sequencing, where Monica Thomas picked up the process.  She prepped them for sequencing and came in at 3:00AM Saturday morning to pull the data off the sequencers for us.  Wow! That is team work AND dedication.

We started again Saturday, March 13th early at 9:00AM.  I knew the samples worked, but the BEWiSE participants didn’t.  We poured our agarose gels, used a new buffer that enables the gels to run faster, checked out the transformation plates – ending with a BLAST search of their sequence DATA.    Of the eight groups, six had data – the sequencing of the 16s RNA gene matched uncultured bacteria.  Cool!  Some were related to Cyanobacteria – even cooler!  It was a great time for young ladies and JCVI staff.  We get invigorated too!!!

How could the week get better? In the middle of the week, we also exhibited at the San Diego Science Alliance High Tech Fair as I noted in my last posting.  We brought the Winograsky columns, the sediment tanks and the microscopes.  We recruited a few more JCVI staff and scientists to help – Sue Fields, Greg Wanger, Jeff McLean, Adi Ramon and Jeff McQuaid.  Under the scopes we had some estuary water with algae, small bacteria and paramecium – cool.  For our younger guests, we also had Daphnia to look at.  With the scopes, we were able to draw participants’ interest and then talk about our batteries and water reclamation.  Tuesday night, we had participants of all ages – 800 in two-hours.  Wednesday, there were at least 1,000 students being bus’d in from all over San Diego.  The booth was rockin’ and rollin’ – and it wasn’t just because the booth next to us had Guitar Hero™.
Orianna Brestchger at the SDSA High Tech Fair!

Orianna Bretschger at the SDSA High Tech Fair!

I flew back to Maryland Sunday – exhausted.  It was a GREAT week!  I hope to see all the BEWiSE girls applying for internships in the next year or two.  Don’t forget to tell your teachers what you did!

For more pictures – visit our Facebook page.

Watch for us at the SD Science Festival on MARCH 27th!!

Having Fun with Genomics

I am the generation after landing on the moon. As a child, I don’t recall having any science inspiration. I was fortunate to have parents that made it possible for me and my siblings to get a very good education. I went to a small parochial school outside of Washington, DC. It was a great school but we had no labs and so my exposure to science was limited at best.  I always liked school and did well, especially in math.

Then I went to Elizabeth Seton High School and had a bumpy road of it. I had two strong teachers mentoring me, Sr. Lani, my homeroom teacher, and Sr. Mary Marguerite in Pre Calculus and Calculus. Though I still had no real strong interest in science, I decided to take AP Biology in senior year. Ms. D’Apolito made us read science journals. Wow! That was unbelievably hard!! I struggled. But in this class, Ms. D’Apolito brought her love of science and research experience into the classroom. I vividly remember reading a journal article about E. coli and thought, “This is so cool! I want to go into research.” And my friends thought I was crazy. So off to college I went, majoring in nursing.

Staying locally, I entered the Catholic University of America, planning to concentrate in nursing. My first year chemistry was taught by this incredible teacher, Dr. Diane Bunce, who is currently a Nifty Fifty with the USA Science and Engineering Festival. She made chemistry exciting and alive!! My second semester, I knew I really wanted to study science. Through many discussions with Dr. Bunce, I realized with a chemistry degree I could do anything from make new plastics to make new cosmetics (her sister worked at a major cosmetic company). Finally, I decided I really wanted Biochemistry – I love photosynthesis!! From there, I continued to work with Dr. Bunce who specialized in chemistry education. I was a teaching assistant (TA) for her professional development in the summer – working with high school chemistry teachers – and I TA’d in her non-science major chemistry class. Dr. Bunce is one of my greatest mentors.

From there, I graduated and had another extraordinary opportunity to come to work in what was described as a “controversial” lab at NIH. I had no idea what I was walking into – but am extremely grateful that Dr. Venter gave me the opportunity to work in his lab. From there, you can read Dr. Venter’s book. I participated in the greatest scientific revolution – the beginnings of genomics!! Furthermore, I have gotten back to my roots – I get to work with teachers, students and “non-science” community to excite them about science and genomics.

Why do I share my story? To explain the difference between my school science experience and the opportunities that exists today for kids of all ages. I never had the opportunity to participate in science enrichment programs because very few existed then. This coming week, JCVI is presenting at two awesome events and hosting a group of young women for a special program in San Diego. First, March 6 and 13, we will be hosting BEWiSE, Better Education for Women in Science & Engineering. BEWiSE is a program of the San Diego Science Alliance and makes a difference for talented young women who are encouraged to contribute to science and engineering professions. Twenty 9th graders will have the opportunity to explore the microbial diversity from soil in a sediment battery by working with JCVI’s Orianna Bretschger. Wow! I never did this in high school or college.

We are also presenting on March 6th at the “Expanding Your Horizon Conference” at the University of San Diego. My colleague, Crystal Snowden, will be hosting a workshop discussing the sediment fuel cell and exploring the bacteria present. This conference reaches out to young girls too! What fun to see the critters under the microscope!

Finally, we will be exhibiting along with several other organizations in the area at the San Diego Science Alliance High Tech Fair. Here, we will have the sediment batteries, microscopes for viewing sea water microbes and soil bacteria, plus slides of diatoms found in Antarctica. Did you really think that electricity could be generated from mud, let alone, sludge??

I wish I had the opportunity to go to programs like this when I was young! You never know when that spark will be lit – in a classroom, at a science festival, watching the waves or a discussion over dinner. Finally, a big thank you goes to all my mentors I’ve had in my life: Sr. Lani, Sr. Mary Marguerite, Ms. D’Apolito, Dr. Bunce and Dr. Venter!

Have you thanked your teachers and mentors lately?

Watch for pictures next week.

Science Festivals

With spring around the corner (or at least we hope), there are several upcoming science festivals. These festivals are designed to provide students and families opportunities to find out what is happening in local science research institutes, universities and companies. These organizations are expanding the text books beyond our imaginations. These are EXCITING times in science – we are just scratching the surface of understanding the diversity of life on our planet, beginning to understand how to boot up synthetic cell, and how to better care for us and our planet.

SDSA High Tech Fair 2009: Dr. Bretschger and students

We are looking forward to participating in the SDSA High Tech Fair, March 9 & 10. Stop by our booth. It should be easy to find – with a unique sulfur odor coming from the sediment battery Dr. Bretschger created related to her work. At the end of March, we will exhibit with SD Science Festival Expo Day, March 27, which brings together over 150 hands-on science activities and stage performances for people of all ages and interest levels!

Switching coasts, April 25, JCVI will be participating at the Rockville Science Day. Another fun day of hands-on science activities and demonstrations! Look for the Mobile Lab there!!

DiscoverGenomics! Mobile Lab

DiscoverGenomics! Mobile Lab

Finally, this fall, we are excited to participate in the first ever USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo on the National Mall! The Mobile Lab will be there with other labs for a mobile lab CONVOY!! Well, maybe not as security might not like that, but we will be there.  Explore science & engineering with hundreds of free, hands-on activities and over 40 science shows on three different stages. The two-day Expo is perfect for teens, children and their families, and anyone with a curious mind who is looking for a weekend of fun and discovery. Build an underwater robot, chat with a Nobel Laureate, explore the science behind the magic of Hogwarts Academy and see a car that drives itself. From bugs to birds, kitchen chemistry to computer games, environmental monitoring to electronic music – the Expo has something for everyone and is completely free of charge. The Expo is the pinnacle event of the inaugural USA Science & Engineering Festival to be held in the greater Washington D.C. area October 10-24, 2010. The USA Science & Engineering Festival is a collaboration of over 500 of the nation’s leading science and engineering organizations. For more information on all Festival events and how you can get involved, visit

I hope everyone can make it out to these great events.  If you are scientists or have a science-related career, please be sure to get out there and volunteer.  National Lab Day has provided a great national portal to volunteer.  There are never enough science fair judges, career speakers or mentors, so contact your local school to find out how you can help.

2010 Internship Program Ready to Go

Are you thinking about summer already? We are!! The 2010 Summer Internship Program is open to accept applications.  Last year, we received and reviewed over 300 applications from all over the US and the world for our summer program. Interns were selected to work in most of the research groups throughout the Institute: 18 interns were selected in San Diego and 37 selected in Maryland.

2009 California Summer Interns

2009 California Summer Interns

2009 Maryland Summer Interns

2009 Maryland Summer Interns

Some of the projects interns worked on were the following:

  • Studies of fluorescent DNA uptake in yeast S. cerevisiae
  • The Role of CPSIII in Diatom Growth
  • Study of the Influenza virus and Sequencing Preparation by Amplification
  • Using DNA Sequence to Access Nature’s Pharmacy
  • Functional Annotation and Interaction Network Analysis of Proteins and Domains of Unknown Function in Treponema pallidum
  • Environment, Health and Safety
  • A Look into Arabidopsis

This year we had ten high school students, one high school teacher, and several undergraduate and graduate students in our intern group. The group made individual presentations to JCVI scientists and staff who were all quite impressed with the level of these presentations given their short time with us. The interns in both our East and West coast locations also had a unique opportunity this year to discuss their projects directly with Dr. Venter.  For more information about the 2010 program, visit