Grant helps Owen Middle students study genetics

Barbara Hootman

Owen Middle School has received a $5,000 grant that is enabling its seventh-grade science students to study genetics through Owen’s Genetics Explorer Project.

The goal of the Genetic Explorer Project is to provide seventh-grade students with an authentic look at the study of genetics through experiential education that uses DNA extraction and electrophoresis, a lab technique that separates macromolecules by their size. The project is also designed to spur interest in the pursuit of higher education.

The Genetic Explorer Project provided OMS seventh graders (with) an authentic look into the student of genetics, said Teresa Cowen, regional director of N.C. State University’s The Science House. “Access to experiential, authentic scientific study allowed students the opportunity to delve into the study of genetics with a scientific lens that opened their eyes and their world to more than just DNA,” she said.

The grant was delivered to the school and the seventh-graders in pre-determined steps. First, Cowan from the Science House and Summer Cortinas from BioNetwork brought two class sets of lab equipment for students to conduct DNA extraction in a classroom lab.

Science teachers Jim Cooper and Brittany Krasutsky were trained by Cortinas in how to use the new equipment. The students seemed to learn a lot.

“I learned how to use micropipetters to extract DNA,” student Sam Hey said. “Then, my group and I compared the extracted DNA to other DNA samples in a way that a forensic scientist would to solve a crime.”

The second step of the grant was taking the students to Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College where they participated in two activities. In the college laboratory they got to be forensic scientists who were trying to solve a crime. Students used DNA electrophoresis kits to “micropipette” three suspects’ DNA into the special gel. Applying electricity, the students watched the macromolecules move down the tray, depending on their size and attraction to electricity.

The third step in the grant was for the science students to learn about genetics. The goal was to introduce them to dominant and recessive gene patterns by guessing what color the offspring of pink and purple eggs would be from certain “allele” pair combinations (alleles are variant forms of a gene).

Because each parent contributes one allele to each gene pair, students were able to understand how genes passed down from their ancestors contribute to their unique physical characteristics.

“It was really exciting to see the students naturally connect math and science using area models, ratios and percents when learning about genetics,” Jennifer Kiecker, an OMS math teacher, said. “It was also exciting for the students to use their math practices with attention to precision and analysis of data in solving a mock forensic criminal investigation.”

Jim Cooper, an OMS science teacher, said the students enjoyed the field trip, which he said was a total success.

“Maybe we just inspired the next epidemiologist or microbiologist that will rock the world,” he said.

Krasutsky agreed. “What a wonderful experience the college lab field trip was for our seventh graders,” she said. “In addition, DNA extraction necklaces were a big hit.”

The grant was made possible through joint partnership by Western Region Education Service Alliance, Biogen Idec Foundation, N.C. State University’s The Science House and the BioNetwork at state community colleges.