Today, our fifth graders and their teachers visited the DNALC lab in Upper Manhattan, where they observed, under microscope, model organisms--non human organisms that scientists study in the lab to gain insights into and greater understanding of the workings of the human body.
The boys examined specimens of the fruit fly and roundworm which, they were surprised to learn, have quite a bit of DNA that is similar to humans. Guided by a science educator from the DNALC of Cold Spring Harbor, the boys examined both wildtype (normal) and mutated samples of each organism, comparing and contrasting to identify the types of mutations and discuss their implications. (For example fruit flies born without wings cannot fly and therefore are at greater risk as they cannot escape threat easily.)
In observing the worms, which were alive, boys had to not only discern mutations in shape, but also in movement pattern. The boys were so engaged in this lab, they eagerly joined in the discussion, offering their insightful thoughts and observations.
Through this lab, and others like it, boys come to see how important it is for scientists to study what goes wrong, genetically, in order to develop cures, a real application of what they study in class.