GFP – a story of bacterial magic

Expression of GFP in E. coli. The bacteria on the right side of the figure have the GFP expression plasmid. Cells were photographed during irradiation with a hand-held long-wave UV source (Photo courtesy Marty Chalfie from the original 1994 Science article and GFP).

You know that saying about parents living through their children.

Well today I was that parent.

Today my son got to do some genetic engineering.

He’s 14.

They hadn’t got much past Mendel when I was 14.

When I was doing microbiology at university, the same university where he was today, we didn’t go much past gram stains.

And here he is at 14 inserting plasmids with Green Flourescent Protein into Escherichia coli.

How cool is that?

(it is very cool… in a geeky-I-wish-I’d-been-a-genetic-engineer kind of way… I mean lets face it usually “glow in the dark” refers to those stars you stick on the ceiling)

Last month I was listening to my NFP* about this cool bunch of genetic engineering students at MIT who had got sick of working with stinky E. coli (it smells like poo) and so engineered in wintergreen so that it would smell nice.

I played it in the car to my son on the way to school to inspire him to pay attention in science this term.

Little did I know then that a few weeks later he’d be doing it himself.

Damn I wish I was at school again!

Unfortunately, when they get to high-school they don’t seem to want their parents to volunteer as parent helpers on excursions… and the teachers don’t seem to want you either – or at least are very slow at picking up the hint so I offered Hugamuga my video camera to film the lab so I could “be there”.

Strangely he wasn’t keen.

But my boy is a nice kid.

Taking pity on his geeky saddo mother he filmed a bit of it for me on his mate’s phone.


Still, when he boasted over dinner tonight that today he had “made life”, I gently brought him back down with the reminder that I had already done it.


And they also sometimes smelled like poo.

*NFP = New Favourite Podcast.

2 Replies to “GFP – a story of bacterial magic”

  1. My best friend is a molecular biotechnology PhD student here in Perth, and her life pretty much revolves around extracting things from bugs and inserting things into other bugs. I must admit that it all sounds pretty cool, but whenever she gets me to look in the microscope, all I can see are my eyelashes. I’ve got no hope of playing with tiny pieces of equipment and being able to play with microscopic DNA strands and what not. No hope at all.

  2. I just noticed your coment about parents in High schools…it seems to me High Schools actively prevent parents from participating in their kids school lives, probably on the basis that it helps kids grow apart from their parents. (Unless they want to fundraise of course). The experience parents have of participating in school life while their kids are in primary school is so rewarding for kids, schools, teachers and parents, that it always make me question the wisdom the education community has on this.

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