Report from DNA and Genetics: STOP. Read. Student Investigation Is Underway …

Colten Collings

by Colten Collings

DNA and Genetics began with an in-depth look at DNA, a fundamental component of all living things. Many people know the basic functions of DNA, but teacher Melissa Harris wants her students to understand the complexity and history behind deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and how it makes us who we are. Each day we look in the mirror and see the manifestation of our DNA sequence, but the genetic material itself normally remains hidden in cells. VAMPY students extracted DNA first from strawberries and then their cheek cells. They deposited their DNA into tiny plastic vials to wear around their necks, making it visible to all. Beware — they are now armed with the knowledge and experience to extract DNA from anyone!

On Thursday, students applied observation and deduction to two scenarios as they learned about forensic investigation. The first scenario asked them to decide if “Ronnie” was lying to his insurance company about his car wreck, and the second asked them to find the culprit in the poisoning of neighborhood animals. Students examined different types of cells, fibers, hairs, and chromosomes through the microscope and read police interviews to construct a timeline of how these events may have unfolded. They also collected samples from known fabrics, creating their own slides to examine and compare these samples to the evidence left at the scene of the crime. Prior to this investigation, students had only looked through a prepared microscope, but they ended the day with a skill many beginning-college students have not mastered. Most students denied Ronnie’s insurance claim — he had not hit a deer! As for the poisoning of the animals, the wife seemed guilty. While students were frustrated that there was not one correct answer for these problems, we reminded them of the authenticity of their experience because forensic scientists do not always get one conclusive, correct answer either.

On Friday, our students began to investigate cancer and why cancer cells continue to divide. Soon to come, students will explore biotechnology, genetically-modified organisms, and the Kentucky State Forensics Laboratory. Melissa Harris and I have enjoyed week one with these gifted students and are excited for the next two weeks!

Andrew Roberts (left) and Andrew Frye (right) examine forensic evidence at the microscopic level.
Lauren Van Zant extracts DNA from her cheek cells.