Bed Bugs and Genomics

Only one thing can make the saying “don’t let the bed bugs bite’ take on a whole new meaning: being bitten by a bed bug. When I was 12 years old, I spent a week at a summer camp. While it was one of my favorite experiences, I mainly remember spending that week covered in itchy, red, bug bites. As the bites seemed to spread like wildfire across the cabin we struggled to find their source, but eventually discovered the culprit. Since then, I’ve been incredibly cautious when it comes to public spaces; the first thing I did when I arrived at Virginia Tech was Clorox my mattress.

I realized that could change during one of our genomics classes with Dr. Haak. We were touring the mass spectrometry lab, and I asked for real life applications of the machinery we were viewing. Our guide mentioned an ongoing study regarding bed bug detection. By analyzing the insects’ fecal matter, scientists can create a ‘genetic footprint’ to identify its presence. Instead of taking precautionary measures or dealing with the aftermath of an infestation, the scientific process can be used to recognize the pest before a problem develops.

Although most people may not share my excitement about the analysis of bed bug fecal matter, the class helped me realize the widespread application opportunity of STEM careers. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at Governor’s School of Agriculture — as someone who grew up in Northern Virginia, I haven’t been exposed to the industry. However, my time at GSA has taught me that agricultural careers can take many different forms and are a vital part of the global community. I’m excited to have a new outlook on STEM, and hopefully never get bitten by a bed bug again!


Economics: Completely Intertwined Into Our Lives

After a year of online school, I had definitely lost some of my focus strength. So, even before walking into the first Economics class of Governor’s School I had mentally “checked out.” I sat in the back of the auditorium just thinking about how I was going to play tennis directly after Global Seminar.

When class started I saw an old man with tiny teacher glasses standing in the front of the room. I already painted a picture in my mind: a slow powerpoint with no pictures, just graphs.

The lecture started with “Call me Mike,” and the classic “How is everyone doing with the masks?” However, things got more interesting, fast. Mike tested our creativity and curiosity, asking questions like why are people willing to spend more money on diamonds than water. As we scratched our heads, he described how economics is completely intertwined into our lives: any matter of choice or decision.

The second class got even better. We were able to release all of the pressure bottled up from the previous day. How does Economics impact farm systems? Whether production is surpassing cost when factoring in transportation of goods. How do monopolies impact the consumer? By controlling prices and cutting competition.

I had one question stirring in my head: Economics is such an intangible and abstract study, where would society be if we did not study Economics? If economics suddenly disappeared how fast would we feel the impact if any at all? Mike saw through my question instantly. He knew I did not understand its importance fully and hammered home how choice is in everything we do.

After a week of classes, I now know connections from economics to agriculture and to every other part of my life. I learned a lot, even though I may have slightly embarrassed myself along the way.


Dress Your Best

Governor’s School for Agriculture (GSA) has opened up a ton of new opportunities that would not have otherwise been available. The first week of GSA was a week full of learning. One of our first classes was on the topic of soils, which may not sound that exciting, but the professor, Tim Durham, who was from Ferrum College, made it very interesting and interactive.

We also had a program fashion show at the beginning of the first week to show what to do and what not to do for the dress code. I had volunteered to dress up for the role of the “Casual Incorrect.” As a spoof on the “Country Boy” title I had acquired, I chose to wear cowboy boots, with American flag-style swim trunks, and an American flag-style button-down shirt. The song I had chosen to walk out on stage to was “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. It was awesome to walk out onto the stage to the good old tunes of a song that has been played far and wide through my hometown.

Learning about genetics and more!

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.