Max-Planck Institute Blog

As part of the work being done with the experts at the Max-Planck-Institute, two pupils at the HLFS Ursprung were given the opportunity to travel to Munich during the 2010 semester break to work side-by-side with top scientists. We were very nervous and excited to find out who would be allowed to go. After all, the team was made up of 17 members and many of them would have liked to go. We decided to solve the problem with an anonymous vote on the Wiki that worked wonderfully. After the first round there were three of us left and final vote was needed. In the end Simone Reiter and Michael Gröemer were allowed to go on the trip.

February 7th 2010:

We made it to Munich! Miche Hösl, Doctoral candidate at the Max-Planck-Institute picked us up at the train station and showed us our accommodations in Planegg. Otherwise it might have taken us much longer. Afterwards we went out for pizza while Miche answered our question about college, doctoral theses and science in general. It is really interesting how it all works – and not so easy to understand. You can totally tell he is such a motivated scientist.

February 8th2010:

We are excited to start the day! Will we really find the MPI? Did Miche really explain everything enough the day before? Totally rested, (and with a super breakfast in our stomachs) we got on our way. It actually all went according to plan… We announced ourselves at the reception when we got to the MPI and were given our IDs without any problems. They would give us access to the lab for the whole week. One call up to Dr. Nediljko’s department from the front desk and Miche was there to show us the way.
He lead us through really confusing hallways to the laboratory and office wing, where he introduced us to Nediljko, Lena and other work group members. Right then the bell rang: we aren’t back at school are we? Confusion… Here is how it went: every Monday at 10 o’clock there is a Lab meeting of the whole department. After the mystery of the missing coffee had been discussed, we were introduced to the group. “Let’s Go!” We were here to learn something, after all. We got comfortable in the coffee room and Miche gave us a full introduction to our pending work in the lab.
Of course we used this opportunity to get out some questions. During the morning we prepared a nutrient medium, poured agar plates and SDS gels to analyze different proteins.
We already knew these kinds of gels from our lab ad school, but we hadn’t made them ourselves then, because poisonous Acrylamide is used. Up until that day, we never knew that SDS gel is always made up of two parts, namely the separating and collecting gels. The photometer caught our attention right away… a real designer piece of the Lab world!
The lunch break was spent with a few other researchers in the coffee room. We learned then, how important a lunch break is when it serves as a place to exchange ideas and support among scientists. Afterwards we prepared our gels, which had hardened in the meantime, for storage. Since there was nothing left to do, we were sent home after 3pm and had time for a little tour through Munich. And we got excited all over again – What would the next day bring? If everything went according to plan, Lena Strube, a bachelor student, would show us around. Well, it was time to go to bed, so that we would be fit and ready to learn in the morning.

February 9th 2010:

Able to sleep in again: the workday began at 10 o’clock – it’s great to get to start the workday so late! Today we had a full plate: we carried out a transformation of Bacillus subtilis with Lena and put together a few DNA gels.
With Miche’s help, we filled the protein gels from the day before, colored and de-colored them to be able to finally measure them. We also helped Miche to carry out restricted metabolism reactions and our pipette skills were put to the test. The Photometer fascinated us again! With the press of a button, it spat out the measurements and made carrying a notebook around a thing of the past.
The Bunsen burners are also enviable. They turn on and off without even a lighter. Hanging out and talking in the coffee room is already a big part of our day: there are always such interesting discussions. This time we got a look into what scientists should never do: apparently, now and again, a researcher will publicize something that they haven’t proven yet, but really think is correct – just for the fame! Unbelievable, isn’t it?
Since it usually gets out into the open, and the whole scientific community know in a few days, these kind of “incorrect assumption” are pretty risky and have cost a lot of people their jobs.
By the end of the day, the mysterious function of the mass spectrometer was (partially) made clear to us. Michi tried his best to explain this really complicated functionality to us, but we will probably never really understand it all. At any rate, it is amazing what is possible in this day-in-age.

February 10th 2010:

A really exciting day! We were allowed to help Miche purify a GFP (green fluorescent protein) with a His-Tag. The process will also happen to our enzymes that we made in the school laboratory. The GFP was inside the cell. To get at it, the cells were destroyed with ultrasound waves and then centrifuged so that the rest of the cell membrane etc. could be sifted out. The next step was to prepare a nickel acid. When we ran it over the protein solution, you could see the green tint in the columns.
The protein and its bright green color are really fascinating. The column binds with the His-Tag identified proteins due to the acquired nickel ions.
Since other, unwanted proteins might build a weak bond to the column, these only slightly adhering proteins are dissolved by a series of wash cycles before the equilibration. Then it must be eluted, which means that you “harvest” the proteins that are specifically bound to the His-Tag. These are now clean. With the photometer measurements, we were then able to determine the protein concentration that proved our good work. The cleaned protein and the individual wash solutions are to be put onto a gel tomorrow.
Miche also took us on a tour of the quite massive MPI: to Lissy, the ruler of the mass spectrometer. It is amazing what this

not very small machine can do. It can determine the mass of a molecule almost down to the kDa (KiloDalton) with just a few µl to work with.

February 11th 2010:

We were slowly getting a feel for some of the most common lab techniques. We had cleaned up proteins the day before. No it was time for DNA. This time the cells were chemically opened up (with NaOH). Unwanted proteins and carbohydrate were disposed of with a diluent buffer. The DNA remained and could be transferred to the prepared columns.
After the equilibration, the DNA was first washed with isopropanol and then with ethanol. Finally, we dissolved the Dried DNA in water. The exact concentration could then be determined with the Nanotrope. At the end of the day, we set up a gel with the probes from the GFP filtration from yesterday and brought it to the mass spectrometer. Let’s see: with a little luck, Lissy wouldn’t be too busy and we would get the test results tomorrow…

February 12th 2010:

The week is already over! We were both very surprised at how quickly the semester break went. We used Friday to fully evaluate and document all of the results from the week.
We also had the pleasure of visiting the real scientific presentation of a professor named Dr. Mohamed A. Marahiel from the University in Marburg. He summarized, in one hour, results that it took him and his team 20 years to work out. Really exciting stuff!
He studied whether there were other ways, besides ribosomes, for small proteins (peptides) to develop. This is how, for example, antibiotics are produced in organisms. It was really great to get to see how something like this works.
The fact that we barely understood anything probably didn’t have much to do with English, but rather our missing technical knowledge. But we weren’t too worried we haven’t even started college yet!
Then we all went together to the cafeteria for lunch. Once we were all packed and had said goodbye to all our new colleagues, it was 3 o’clock and time to leave. Finished! Just in time for Miche to get to his football match and for us to catch our train.

We were pretty tired after our week full of impressions and experiences. But we had not doubts: the “sacrificed” vacation week at the MPI was a success and was totally worth it. If we hadn’t used this opportunity, we would have definitely regretted it. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the everyday life of a scientist. We used this “sample week” to build our technical knowledge and our social competence at the same time. There can’t be a better guide for picking a major after we graduate!