Water Quality - Intern

Jennifer is a research assistant intern at City of Racine Health Department, Laboratory. She talked to us about her position as an intern working in water quality.

What biotechnology program did you attend?
Biotechnology at Milwaukee Area Technical College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

What degree/certificate are you working towards?  

What you do for your job?
The Racine Health Department Laboratory works with all of the freshwater sources in the area (Lake Michigan, and surrounding rivers) and collects samples to determine water quality. The project I have been working on for the last year uses qPCR to determine water quality by enumerating the amount of fecal indicator bacteria in the water, in conjunction with Colilert culture methods to deliver faster results and make the beaches safer for residents. Our lab is one of the first in the nation to use this method for water quality research and works with the EPA in developing this method for other labs to use.

What are some techniques that you commonly use?

  • Colilert Culture Method,
  • using agar plates to streak cultures,
  • water filtration systems,
  • qPCR,
  • DNA extraction,
  • autoclaving,
  • sterilization methods,
  • measuring aspects of water quality(turbidity,pH,conductivity).

Please describe an average day:
An average day during sampling season would be for someone to collect the water sample from North and Zoo Beaches in Racine County, Wisconsin and bring them back to the lab. The water would be filtered through a filtration system and the filter would then be placed in a tube. Afterwards, depending on certain elements (wave height, turbidity etc) I would create a dilution of the DNA extract to be used in qPCR. In a sterile environment, I would then create the master mix to be used in the reaction, add it to the tubes and then move from the clean room to another sterile room called the qPCR room. Under a hood in the qPCR room, I would add the diluted DNA extract to the master mix and load the tubes into the qPCR machines and start the cycles. After reading the results, we post them to several websites that let the public know whether or not the water is safe for swimming in that day.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in a biotech career?
I wish someone would have told me that these types of careers existed! I had originally planned on going to school for Dental Hygiene, but my microbiology teacher pulled me aside and told me about this program. I took a few of the classes and learned that I love it. It's really fun and really rewarding and there are so many job opportunities for someone with a background in biotechnology. It can open doors to career fields that are amazing and most people don't even think of them when they're dreaming about what they want to do with their lives.

  • Sampling the water in the Root River in Waders
  • Running the Colilert test to test for E. coli. This test is approved by the EPA for identifying contaminants in drinking water.
  • Setting up master mix for qPCR reactions in a sterile hood