Cracking the Genetic Code High School Science Students Take Part in Advanced DNA Experiment

Article excerpt

Elaine Modine's students crowded around her, all craning to get a look at the quivering blue rectangle of gel she'd laid out on an illuminated box.

What they saw made every one of them smile.

To the uninitiated eye, they were looking at some squishy blue stuff marked with a few darker-blue dashes barely as long as a pencil is wide.

But those little marks had plenty of meaning for the Waubonsie Valley High School students who had created them.

The dashes were evidence that the juniors and seniors had carried off a college-level lab experiment well enough that they'll soon be able to compare their own genetic coding with populations from all over the world.

All they had to do was collect a little bit of their own microscopic DNA, replicate it a few hundred times, enlarge it and single out a little section that all humans possess but that varies from person to person.

No wonder everyone smiled when they saw the proof they had succeeded.

"This is the same procedure they use to identify MIAs or that they used to identify Anastasia Romanov. I never had the opportunity to do real research like this in high school," Modine said. "I'm almost in awe that we can do this in a high school classroom."

The students in Modine's genetics classes along with their counterparts in Michelle Corlew's advanced biology course took part in the experiment, which the two teachers learned about in a course they took last summer.

Students plucked hairs out of their scalps, then put the useful section of the hair through a complicated series of temperature changes and chemical reactions. The process sorted the DNA chains out of the cells, replicated the chains so there would be more to work with and marked the segment the students will be studying further.

"I think it's interesting. It's one of the cooler labs we've done," said Chris Dolinar, a junior in Corlew's biology course. "It's interesting to be able to do a lab on ourselves, rather than a plant or some algae or something."

It's the kind of work a technician in a police lab would do to determine whether a suspect has the same genetic makeup as the person who left a hair or some blood at a crime scene, the teachers said. …