September 18, 2022

Agarose Substitution for Electrophoresis - Week 5

The fifth week of research is here! After so long, I can finally say that the experimentation stage of my investigation is coming to a close. So, without further ado, let me present some of my findings!

Tapioca Starch Gel

The big question that was tackled by my research was whether or not tapioca starch could be used as a viable alternative to agar when making gels for electrophoresis. The short answer is yes! As you'll see in the photos below, the gel presented similar results when compared to the corn starch. The DNA was able to migrate, however at a much slower rate (comparable to a higher percent agarose gel). While there are a couple other properties to further study and take advantage of, the developed protocol could be used in a high school class and be effective for introducing the method.

Temperature and Clarity

When running gels in the electrophoresis box for a prolonged time at higher voltages, the TAE buffer can heat up land cause the box to fog up While the phenomenon is usually not of any concern, it produced interesting effects on the tapioca starch. The gel, which had to be refrigerated due to the timing of the electrophoresis, became more opaque initially due to the colder temperature. However, the gel became clearer as the bands traveled across the gel and heated up. At the same time, the gel lost a bit of the structure it originally had, but wasn't of much concern due to DNA already being in place.

Given this property, arising from tapioca's unique structure, a better protocol would need to be developed to best utilize the clarity. If such a protocol were to exist, it would render agar less practical when teaching due to its cost.

Closing Remarks

One of the biggest things I learned about research is that scheduling is rough and unforgiving. I greatly underestimated how long different stages were gonna be, giving myself either too much time or too little time. However, this independent study was probably one of the best experiences in high school to this date. Even I&R isn't going to be as amazing as this study; that class is guided and under a mentor, which isn't as fun as doing it without having your handholding. It's not every day you meet someone my age who can say that they got to do research alone. Despite this, I am excited for the day in which I can work on a research project as a team with others.