Kids + Parents = DNA Waubonsie Students, Parents Study Cornerstones of Genetics

Article excerpt

Byline: Tracy Boutelle Daily Herald Correspondent

Amid the boisterous hallways of Waubonsie Valley High School, and behind an ordinary-looking classroom door, lies a student-run genetics laboratory where

research contributes to the Human Genome Project, a worldwide effort to better understand heredity.

In that high school lab, students have spent this week engaged in the complicated work of sequencing DNA and analyzing differences in the individual genetic codes.

Recently, a group of juniors and seniors shared their expertise with their moms and dads by extracting mitochondrial DNA from hair follicles.

"They were slightly confused because it is really technical for them," 17-year-old scientist-in-training Kelly Dittmar said of the many Naperville and Aurora parents who watched students deftly make millions of copies of extracted DNA.

The parents' DNA will be sent to the Cold Spring Harbor lab in Long Island, N.Y. It will be sequenced, and the results will be fed into computers. Parents then can - anonymously - compare their DNA to that of other people across the world, to ancient Neanderthal man and to other organisms.

They also can compare it to their sons' or daughters' genetics. Because mitochondrial DNA primarily is inherited from the mother, the comparison could be strikingly alike. Or strikingly different.

"For parents to experience something they probably read about and see on TV, it shows how advanced high school science is," said the students' teacher, Elaine Modine.

For several years Modine has engaged her genetics students in the real-world genome experiment.

Each year she's taken the classroom work a bit further.

First students sequenced DNA, then they extracted, replicated and sequenced their own genetic code. This year they drew their parents into the experiment.

The experience of parent and child working side-by-side is powerful, she said.

Equally as powerful, say students, is the contribution they are making to modern science through their work with the High School Human Genome Center to identify genes that make people more susceptible to nicotine addiction. …