Focus of DNA & Genetics: Curiosity Welcome!

by Thy Phung

Thy Phung

Curiosity fuels the engines for innovation and revolution in the world of STEM. At VAMPY, the DNA & Genetics class creates a welcome space for curiosity and questions. Some of these questions can be answered with theories that are supported by evidence. Other questions can be explored but not yet answered because our knowledge of DNA and genetics is still in its infancy. Discussion is unique in this class because we can pursue some of those unanswered questions — and someday, the answers could end up being part of a revolutionary cure to a disease.

A petri dish holds dozens of glowing green circles
A petri dish of glowing bacteria.

A typical day in our lab/classroom starts with a discussion over our book study of The Forever Fix by Ricki Lewis. Our class of ten sharp students makes amazing connections between the book’s stories of genetic miracles and the lessons covered in the course. Since the students in this class have an interest in genetics as a possible career, their input is like a peek into the future when they are genetic counselors, molecular biologists, and pediatricians. Following the book study, teacher Colton Isaacs leads a review of concepts discussed from earlier in the week. As students shout out what they recall, Colton creates a mind-map on the white board.

For example, Thursday’s focus was on non-Mendelian genetics. Lyla Wood shouted out, “Genes that are located closer together on a chromosome are more likely to be inherited together in recombination!”

“Gene linkage!” Isaacs responded excitedly.

Later in the day, the students get more hands on as we conduct labs. These have included so far a pGLO lab where we made bacteria glow using jellyfish DNA, a CRISPR lab where we cut a gene that expresses a blue color out of bacteria and repaired it so that it is white, and a Fast Plants lab where we grew bean sprouts to showcase Mendelian genetics. We complete the day in study hall by finishing off the labs or continuing the book study. Next week, we will tour an electron microscopy lab as well as talk via Zoom with genetic counselor (and VAMPY alum) Jen Glass.

Spending time with the VAMPY students is one of the best experiences I have ever had. Their dreams and intelligence are inspirational. I can now proudly say that I spent three weeks with young people who glow with the promise of a future full of curiosity.