I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard that the box I was standing three feet away from cost over a million dollars. It was a Tuesday morning, and after yesterday’s class with drones and the lesson on Technology of Agriculture, today we were learning about genetics.
After learning the basics in the auditorium, we made our way up to our first lab. It looked like the classic lab you see in the movies: cylinders, vials, test tubes, pipettes, gas pipelines, and lots of complicated-looking equipment connected by a maze of wires. Our instructor explained to us that given a vial of anything, literally anything, he could use his lab to figure out exactly what it was made of.
We made our way down to the second floor, which was a little less cluttered but just as imposing. This lab was geared less towards the basic building blocks of chemistry and more towards DNA and genetics. I walked past a large white box, wondering what this “big printer” was used for. But it was anything but a printer: this machine could analyze DNA down to its smallest components and store them in computers. Someone in our group asked, “how much does one of these devices cost?” But their dreams of splicing DNA and creating a Frankenstein were gone when our instructor told us the price.
I jumped away, not wanting to risk even breathing on it. “But,” he mentioned, “the students here at VT have access to all of this equipment.” I wanted to know what our instructor had used the machine for, and he told us that he and some co-workers were sequencing the DNA of the Hellbender Salamander, which was a challenge due to its complicated amphibious DNA. He said that he had been working on this project for almost a decade, but had gotten funding and was making headway. We made our way back to the auditorium, and after answering some questions, made our way to lunch and the rest of our day at Virginia Tech’s Gov School for Agriculture.