Bethel Park High School Biology students worked with researchers from the University of Pittsburgh's Women's Cancer Research Center at the Hillman Cancer Center on a three-day lab exercise that involved DNA extraction.
Students were asked to bring samples of their favorite snack foods, such as chips, cereal, tortillas and crackers to school for analysis. The students ground up the snacks and used a chemical to extract the DNA from the food to determine if Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) were present.
The second day of the lab had students mixing their samples with additional chemicals that would make more DNA. Then the Pitt researchers took those samples back to Pitt and ran them through a machine called a thermocycler, which used high temperatures to help "unzip" the DNA helix.
On the third day, the students' samples were returned and they used pipettes to insert their DNA samples into a gel, which was then placed into a machine to separate the DNA by sequence through a process called electrophoresis, in which an electrical current runs through the gel.
Once the electrophoresis process concluded, students stained their gels blue and used a light table to view the DNA sequences in the gels, to determine if GMOs were present.
The students talked about reasons that GMOs would be used in the food supply--to increase yield, make crops more disease and insect resistant, help them to stay stronger in bad weather, produce more seeds and to taste better.
Women's Cancer Center Researcher Dr. John Skoko helped guide the students through the lab and he explained that this same process is used by Researchers to test for genetic disease in people and by Forensic Scientists to extract DNA from crime scenes.
This is the fourth year that Bethel Park High School has partnered with Pitt on a multi-day lab and the third year the students have participated in the GMO extraction exercise.
Dr. Skoko encouraged the students to consider applying to Pitt's Summer Internship Program, where they can work alongside UPMC Researchers on real-life studies. Senior Angela Burns has participated in this program the past two summers.
This experience was made possible by BPHS Science Teacher Barbara Eisel, who established the relationship with the University of Pittsburgh to bring this cutting-edge technology into the classroom.
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to see some photos from the second day of the lab.