Freshman Katherine Tolley uses a micropipette to prepare DNA samples.

Freshmen (from L) Emily Harris, Kate Peters, and May Halm retrieve their DNA samples at the beginning of class.

 

Students in Lincoln Academy’s Biology classes have a unique opportunity this year to use cutting-edge lab equipment to sample and analyze their own DNA. This project, which takes five days of lab work to complete in class, is made possible by a federal grant to the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor. With the grant, Jackson Lab has purchased the equipment and developed the curriculum for this high school genetics project. Participating schools borrow the equipment for two weeks and complete the lab in that time.

Freshman Ethan Jones loads DNA samples for gel electrophoresis while biology teacher Matt Buchwalder looks on.

Freshman Ethan Jones loads DNA samples for gel electrophoresis while biology teacher Matt Buchwalder looks on.

“This is an incredible opportunity,” said Lincoln Academy Biology teacher Matthew Buchwalder. “This equipment would cost over $10,000, which puts the price out of range of a high school biology laboratory.”

During the five days of genetics lab work, students isolate their DNA from a saliva sample, then purify and analyze it to test themselves for 2 genes. One of the genes (ACE) has been loosely linked to athletic ability, while the other (OXTR) has implications for social skills.

“Most of the students carried out the procedures very carefully and got clear results”, said Buchwalder. “I was impressed how they worked so well on their first experience with these techniques. One small mistake can ruin the results.”

Another benefit of the genetics unit was offering students an opportunity to discuss the ethics of biotechnology and the sensitivity of personal genetic information. “The students had a healthy perspective about their results” said Buchwalder. “They realized that even if you don’t have this particular gene for athletic ability, it doesn’t at all mean you’re not an athlete.”

Freshman Katherine Tolley uses a micropipette to prepare DNA samples.

Freshman Katherine Tolley uses a micropipette to prepare DNA samples.

Freshman Chase Harris, who did the experiment in biology class, enjoyed the genetics experiment. “It was really interesting seeing my own genes and doing the type of work that modern scientists do in their field.”

His classmate, Sam Russ, who is also a freshman, agreed. “This was a unique experience, and I really enjoyed being active in class and not only seeing how scientists go about these tests, but doing them ourselves.”

“We’ve never had the ability to work with DNA on campus like this,” concluded Buchwalder. “It gives students personal experience with the tools of biotechnology that are drastically changing our world today. Students can understand this technology and make better decisions about how it should be used when they have actually seen how it works.”