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DNA Scientists in Action

Is a burger, promoted as such, indeed organic? How pure is chicken or seafood? What might be lurking in pond or pool water? How much DNA can be found on dollar bills? 

These are some of the questions our fifth grade boys are exploring in the culminating activity of their DNA unit of study with the DNA Learning Center at Cold Spring Harbor.  On Monday, educators from DNALC were at Saint David’s and, with our teachers, they guided the boys in an exciting final project: The boys, working in teams, are extracting and performing DNA analysis on samples of their own choosing in order to answer a question of their own design. 

The multi-step step process involves extracting and amplifying the DNA, and performing electrophoresis. The samples will then be sent to a facility for decoding, and the results returned to our boys. The boys will make presentations on their experiments and results later this month.

The energy in the labs today was off the charts; all of the boys excitedly offered their thoughts and hypotheses about outcomes. Equal to the energy was the degree of focus and engagement: This type of work is exacting and intricate, requiring patience and high levels of concentration. And the boys clearly love it. 

“We get to do such active, interesting things in this unit.” “My parents are saying we will know more at our age than they know about DNA; I feel like I’ve already learned so much.” “It’s great to be able to choose something you are really interested in and learn about it.” 

These were some of the assessments boys offered of this unit. They have learned so much this year about how real-world science works, not through books or lectures, but by eagerly putting on the scientist’s “white coat and gloves” and doing the thinking and experimenting themselves.

Photo 1: Sample of crabmeat to undergo DNA extraction and analysis.

Photos 2 and 3: Adding silica resin to extract DNA from a sample.


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