Many high school students read about bacterial transformation in their biology textbooks, but most do not get a chance to actually make bacteria transform. That type of lab work is typically reserved for a university level microbiology course. However, sophomore biology students at CCS recently did just that.

So, what is bacterial transformation and why should we be interested? Transformation is one of three ways that bacteria can pick up new pieces of DNA from their surroundings. This is significant in our understanding of how strains of bacteria are becoming antibiotic resistant, which, of course, is of great concern to all in the medical field. Transformation happens occasionally in nature, but can be forced in the lab.

CCS students caused harmless strains of E. coli bacteria to take in small circular pieces of DNA that contained genes from a jellyfish. These genes carry the instructions to make a bioluminescent protein. Therefore, if the bacteria successfully incorporate the new DNA into their cells, they will also make this “glow-in-the-dark” protein and will luminesce. Every team that worked on this lab successfully transformed the cells and made glow-in-the-dark bacteria that were expressing the jellyfish gene!

As our students experiment in the microscopic world, they become more conversant and competent in how it works and how they, as image-bearers of God, have the capacity to exercise dominion over it. Of course, this dominion is not meant to be a crass exercise of power. God desires that we act in and upon the world in the same way He does, in order to make life flourish. So, while our students are learning what they can do in the natural world, they are also learning what they should do in that world in which they find themselves. For instance, that means that they are also learning how to compare and contrast between Nietzsche’s concept of the “will to power” and Jesus of Nazareth’s revolutionary notion that power is most potent when it is relinquished in love and life for others.

It is indeed a pleasure to watch our students exercise their minds, their hands and their hearts toward producing truth, goodness and beauty in the world.