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Biology Students Work With UPMC Cancer Researchers

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Over 420 Bethel Park High School Biology students had the opportunity to participate in a four-day lab with researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute to analyze the DNA in their favorite snack foods.

Researchers posed this question to the students: “Do your favorite snack foods have GMOs?”
Students brought in snacks such as Doritos and Pop Tarts and on the first day of the lab, they worked in small groups to grind up the foods and then use a chemical to extract the DNA from the food.

On the second day, students mixed their samples with chemicals that would make more DNA. The Pitt researchers took the samples back to Pitt to run them through a machine called a thermocycler, to facilitate the DNA replication process.

On the third day, the students used pipettes to insert their DNA samples into a gel. Then they separated the DNA by sequence through a process called electrophoresis, in which an electrical current runs through the gel. Once the electrophoresis process is concluded, the students stained their gels with a blue dye and once the gels dried, they used a light table to view the DNA sequences in the gels, to determine if GMOs were present.

This is the third year that Bethel Park High School students have worked with Pitt researchers on multi-day labs. This experience helps the students to learn more about careers and techniques in the STEM field and it also allows them to work alongside professional researchers.

“Working on this lab feels like the real deal,” explained senior Joe Mueser.

Leading the project from the University of Pittsburgh is Dr. David Boone, who was excited to be back at Bethel Park High School and working with the Biology students from AP, Honors and Regular Biology classes.

Dr. Boone also took the opportunity to encourage the students to apply to Pitt’s Summer Internship Program. Last school year, Angela Burns participated in the Internship Program and enjoyed her experience.

This experience was made possible by Bethel Park High School Biology Teacher Barbara Eisel, who established relationships with the University of Pittsburgh to bring this cutting-edge technology to the High School.

Please click here to see some photos from this year's lab.