Behold the Glory of this Petri-Dish Longhorn


The Longhorn symbol is one of the most recognizable logos on the planet, but you’ve probably never seen it in this eye-catching form: fluorescent yeast in a petri dish.

Biochemistry grad student Heidi Redden entered the image above in a College of Natural Sciences photo competition designed to celebrate “the extraordinary beauty of science and the scientific process.”

Designed by Redden’s colleague Nathan Crook, PhD ’14, the yeast Longhorn didn’t place in the competition, but it did continue an unusual science-and-art tradition in the Department of Chemical Engineering’s Alper Lab. One of the lab’s main areas of research is fungal engineering—altering yeasts and other fungal systems to learn more about their potential to produce biofuels. And in their downtime the researchers have been known to have a little fun with their petri dishes. They grew a specific type of yeast to make the Longhorn logo.

“From start to finish, the whole process took about three weeks, the majority of which was constructing a suitable yeast strain,” Crook says.

In order to create the shiny strain, the yeast cell had to be injected with a gene that encodes a fluorescent protein. Kathleen Curran, PhD ’14, Life Member, engineered this strain of yeast as part of her PhD project.

“After the strain was made, lots of different petri dish designs could be made in a matter of three to four days,” Crook adds.

Since Crook’s graduation and departure to Washington University in St. Louis, the yeast art creation duties for the Alper Lab have fallen to Jie Sun, a postdoctoral fellow and co-creator of the yeast Longhorn. Each PhD student who graduates from the lab now receives a personalized yeast image with their name and a Longhorn to commemorate their work. Sun says she’s planning to make the next batch of students’ parting gifts a little more personal.

“In the future, I will try to customize every plate by using the unique cells people have been working with for their PhD program,” she says.


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