Yesterday I participated in the genome center’s DNA Day Ambassadors program, where employees visit area schools to spread the wonders of DNA to students. My school was Our Lady of Lourdes, a catholic school whose 8th grade class I previously visited to talk about my work in genomics.
We brought them a real DNA experiment, some genome center pencils, and hopefully, some excitement about DNA and science in general. Thanks to the Tech D boys Kevin and Devin, I could show off a couple of very cool looking Illumina flowcells and pass them around. My best prop for the visit, however, was a guy named Vince Magrini.
I somehow managed to recruit the genome center rising star and group leader of our Technology Development to join me on the visit to Lourdes. He was a natural, engaging with the class right away. It also proved fortunate because he’d developed the protocols for the strawberry DNA extraction experiment that we brought for them to do.
Before the experiment, the class tolderated my 15 or so slides on DNA, the history of the double helix, and Watson & Crick. Not that they cared, but with some searching I was able to find a can of the original “Photo 51” that Rosalind Franklin took by X-ray diffaction of the crystalline structure of DNA. I also found an early hand-drawn sketch by Francis Crick, his first drawing of the famous double helix structure. We talked about some of the things that are inherited, too, like eye color and hair color. DNA Day has its responsibilities, after all.
Then Vince took other, and within minutes, the entire room smelled of strawberries. There were around forty kids divided into eight or nine groups, and all of them were eager to participate in the fruit smashing. Vince guided them through cell lysis (soap), precipitation (salt), and then separation (ethanol). There were varying levels of scientific rigor, among the groups, and thus various levels of success. To be perfectly honest, we weren’t as precise as we could have been when adding salt and ethanol to their mixtures. But most of the groups at least precipitated some DNA, and all seemed to have a good time. They all enjoyed putting on the gloves and getting to work – and thanks to the foresight of the outreach department, we had diapers down to absorb most of the mess. Pam Nangle from the genome center came along, and it was she who took all of these great pictures.
We wrapped up with some discussions about genetics while Vince prepared an even more impressive demonstration – a flash gel of their strawberry DNA isolations (as well as some human DNA controls and a ladder) that he ran and put under a blacklight. They came up in groups to see the gel and get a 5-minute lesson from Vince. Then suddenly the hour and fifteen minutes was over, and we were packing up to head home.