In my Independent Science Project (which I do during allotted time in my school week), I am helping teach middle schoolers about DNA through modern genetic technologies. I think it’s vital for my generation to understand DNA and modern breakthroughs in genetic research, because we are on the precipice of a biology revolution, due to the unlocking of the gene (just as we went through physics revolution with the unraveling of the atom, and a computer revolution with the harnessing of the byte). This project combines my passion for science and biotechnology with teaching and communication.
Below are my Project Proposal and my Resources and Dependencies papers.
INDEPENDENT SCIENCE PROPOSAL
Take That, Ms. Frizzle: Giving Middle-Schoolers a Hands-on Experience With Genetics and Biotechnology Without a Magic Schoolbus
I’m planning on teaching middle schoolers about DNA and genetics using PCR and gel electrophoresis for a hands-on approach.
Background & Purpose:
Most students learn about biology on a macro-to-micro scale. They might start with animals and organisms in elementary school, before learning about cells in middle school, and then, when they finally reach high school, they learn about biochemistry and genetics. While this progression may be a good simple-to-complex gradient for students to follow, it certainly has room for improvement. The reason organisms function is their cells, and the reason their cells function is because of the proteins (and other things) that make them up. The function of the proteins comes from the DNA in the organism. By introducing genetics into a student’s curriculum earlier, you are setting them up for better understanding by cutting straight to the bottom of the “why” question. Also, with the relatively recent breakthroughs in biotechnology (gene sequencing, CRISPR, etc.), it is important for students to grasp concepts of genes and DNA.
I will use DNA copying (polymerase chain reaction, or PCR), special ‘molecular scissors’ (restriction enzymes), and a DNA visualizer (gel electrophoresis) to show students how their DNA codes for the way their bodies are, physically.
Methods & Tools:
I plan on getting a PTC-tasting gene kit. After figuring out how well it all works, I will take DNA samples from the students I’m working with, and amplify a 221 bp region of the TAS2R38 gene. I will then use a restriction enzyme that will cut the gene segments in two only if they code for the PTC-tasting phenotype. After that, I will run the DNA segments through agarose gel, which will determine whether the segments have been cut into two, or if they have remained uncut, effectively predicting the phenotype in each student.
I’ll measure the effectiveness of the project by seeing how well the students understand DNA, PCR, and gel electrophoresis after the program through some form of examination.
It is predicted that gene editing and sequencing is the next big thing in science. Medicine tailor-made for your body and diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s combatted are two of many exciting things to look forward to as biotechnology keeps moving forward. It’s important for students interested in science and technology to have a firm grasp of concepts regarding genetics as they proceed into their careers, making it more important than ever to take a hands-on approach when teaching students about DNA, to transform it from confusing textbook diagrams to tangible, verifiable experiments in the classroom, giving students a solid foundation as they grow to become the bioengineers of tomorrow.
Future students could continue my project by expanding the curriculum to include other hands-on projects and reach out further to other schools. It could even become a program where honors and AP-level high school students were trained to teach middle schoolers to enrich both classes.
RESOURCES AND DEPENDENCIES
Project Title: Take That, Ms. Frizzle: Giving Middle-Schoolers a Hands-on Experience With Genetics and Biotechnology Without a Magic Schoolbus
Project Scope: Teaching middle schoolers about DNA and biotechnology through hands-on projects involving PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and gel electrophoresis.
Inventory PCR and gel electrophoresis equipment in currently Energy Lab, organize lab space
Order any missing elements
Figure out proper procedure
Run PTC-tasting DNA analysis on myself and some fellow independent science researchers to ensure procedure works
Design ‘lesson plan’ for best way to teach DNA, PCR, etc. to middle-schoolers
Practice lessons and lab on friends and siblings, get critiques and suggestions on teaching
Coordinate with middle school science teachers, teach and take samples (with parental consent) over the course of a week
Return with students’ results, and give them PTC strips to taste to verify that genotype codes for phenotype
After working at Lower Campus, speak with other middle school science teachers on the island (Innovations, WHEA, etc.)
Project partners (internal and external): Mr. Piercy (Lower Campus science teacher), Ms. Jim (Lower Campus science teacher), Mrs. McDowell (consulting), Dr. Bill (consulting and guidance)
PTC Taster Lab chemicals - TBE Buffer, Loading Dye, Ethidium Bromide, Agarose, DNA Ladder, Chelex, Saline rinse, Restriction enzymes, etc.
Gel electrophoresis chamber
Online resources (web pages, wikis, online programs)
The above is my original proposal, once I got some direction in the class. I really wanted to use my knowledge of biotechnology and genetics to teach kids in the middle school, but several things conspired against me. It took far longer than anticipated to get the DNA equipment working. When I picked up the project, everything was a big mess, scattered throughout the Elab with very little organization. It took quite a while even just to catalog what we had to work with. Once I had done that, I began running PCR reactions, but I got no results. I ran the reactions again and again, isolating different variables each time to see what could be going wrong. I figured out two things in the end: we had the wrong transilluminator, and the thermocycler wasn't working right. So I did some more research, and with Dr. Bill and Mrs. McDowell's help, bought the Elab a new transilluminator and PCR machine (for relatively quite cheap). By the time I had done all this, most of the year was over and I was very caught up in APs and graduation stuff, which means I never was able to go down and teach like I hoped to, but I still believe that I've left behind a significant legacy. I know that I have revitalized the Elab's biotech program by reorganizing it and ordering new, functional equipment so that my successors can have more success than I did. They will be able to pursue their passions in genetics and biotechnology, which was (and is) my original goal.
While I didn't accomplish all that I planned to, I am still very proud of my work this year and I think I've learned a lot from it. I think I'm most proud of my persistence in figuring out what was wrong with my PCR protocol. I ran so many gels over the course of the year to figure out what could be wrong. I talked to DR. Bill, Mrs. McDowell, representatives of the biotech companies we work with, and some old acquaintances to help me figure out what I was doing wrong. It was an overall great (and sometimes frustrating) experience that I think has helped prepare me for the research I'll be doing in college.
THANK YOU, Dr. Bill for supporting me and my endeavors. Ths year was such a great year. Kepp being awesome and helping kids realize their passions!