Alex van der Wateren is interviewing Biomakespace members so you can get to know who uses the space. In the fifth entry of the series, we meet Khadija Ouadi!
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I can say I was the kind of kid in school that always enjoyed every subject, I was just happy to be there! During Biology A levels I enjoyed the molecular topics most such as the central dogma that states information is passed on from genes to RNA to proteins. I’m so interested in what governs life which is what has driven me to learn as much as I possibly can and led me to specialise in molecular biology.
I did quite a bit of plant biology at university out of sheer interest. During my undergraduate degree I took part in the iGEM competition and the Gatsby Foundation Plant Summer School. For the iGEM competition our team worked on a dual promoter that was both mammalian and bacterial. We tried to transfect E. coli and yeast with it and managed to get some sort of fluorescence in both (indicating we succeeded), so we got Gold. We didn’t quite get to MIT (where the finals are held) but it was such a cool experience! This was a lesson in allocating work which brought out the best in each of us and made the best use of our individual strengths. The Plant Summer School was only a week long but it left a distinct impression on me. It gave me an appreciation of the importance of plant biology as it pertains to food security, particularly in the developing world. It also opened my eyes to just how complex plant molecular machinery really is.
Prior to coming to Cambridge I was in Bath doing a PhD in molecular microbiology. I worked on a genome-wide sequence-association study of MRSA. I did not finish the PhD and instead left with an MPhil. This experience showed me the importance of organisation and gave me an appreciation that molecular biology is a tricky beast. Moreover, I also learned that assays rarely work on the first go!
I was out of the science sphere for a bit whilst I worked in recruitment but my curiosity keeps pulling me back. I moved to Cambridge relatively recently so at the moment I am looking for a job!
Q: How did you find out about Biomakespace, and why did you join?
My partner and I were looking for something to do together so we looked on Meetup to see what was out there and found Biomakespace. We were both really interested in the concept of an open and shared lab space so couldn’t wait to get involved. We have been thinking about a project to do together at Biomakespace on and off but we want to have thought things through very carefully before we get our hands dirty. We therefore haven’t started our own project yet. However, I helped out with a workshop at the space which was really fun! It’s keeping me in science which is quite important to me because I haven’t been in the lab as part of my day job for a while now.
Q: What do you hope to gain from being a member?
I hope to gain an additional experience that I haven’t gained through academia. That could be through running workshops, which I found very satisfying. I did the molecular scissors workshop on the basis of endonucleases. This allowed me to teach people some basic techniques and thus to give them the agency to do these things on their own: I care a lot about science skills not being restricted to just academia and industry.
My partner and I are interested in gut bacteria because the scientific community has recently gained an understanding of how important the gut microbiome is to general health, particularly mental illness (the gut-brain axis); the gut microbiome is also linked to immune function and metabolic diseases such as obesity. We have toyed with a number of ideas that mesh with the study of the gut microbiome, from oral-administered faecal microbiota transplantation (in pill form of course!) to synthetic probiotics.
We are also interested in how the brain works and might want to do a project that, to some degree, makes us both learn a bit more about what happens in our brain. The brain gives us our personalities and is what we see the world through, but I have a very limited understanding of how this organ works. A project that might involve electronic engineering and models of neuronal networks would be great!
Q: Do you have any skills, knowledge, or expertise to contribute to the community?
I have various skills that I obtained during my education that I could teach to others. For instance, during my MPhil I performed a lot of crystal violet biofilm assays, colorimetric protease assays, and I did a fair bit of cloning too. Additionally, I have experience in cytotoxicity assays (in human cell culture) and Western blotting. I did a small amount of physical chemistry (making lipid vesicles encapsulating a dye) and bacteriophage cultivation too. I also have some experience in FACS and in situ hybridisation of microRNAs in Xenopus embryos.
I want to share my enthusiasm for science with people who do not have as much basis in science yet, so I am hopefully going to be part of the science fair. For the fair we organise a workshop that aims to find out if any of the participants are a super taster. To do this, we combine results of taste tests and analysis of cheek cells. This will give participants a direct look into how genotype translates to phenotype.
With regards to other skills, I have some experience in Adobe Illustrator and similar software so I hope to help out with some graphic design. I’d also like to create some other kinds of content for the website.
Q: How has your experience been so far?
Fantastic! Everybody is really nice: geeky, but in the best possible way. Everyone is interested in learning but no one makes you feel bad about knowledge you don’t have. It’s a place where you can ask questions, even if you think they are silly. Everyone has been really kind and generous in sharing his or her knowledge--there is so much expertise in different areas amongst the members. We’re making what science in academia should be: inclusive of everybody. I have learned a lot in the short amount of time I have been with Biomakespace so far, and I hope to learn a lot more in the future!