More PCR, please….. Yesterday’s reactions didn’t work at all. Jennifer remembered that the previous PCR that did work had included a big mistake. Instead of 0.5 µL of DNA per reaction, she had the students add 5 µL of DNA. The students had questioned it at the time, but being good biology students needing a grade, they went ahead and followed the instructions. It likely means that the DNA concentrations are too dilute. To test for this, the students went back to the 5 µL of DNA per reaction, which had previously worked, and did the optimization for magnesium chloride as in yesterday’s trials.
One of the students present yesterday was absent today, but the student who was absent yesterday was in class today. It was interesting to see how the entire dynamic of the class had changed.
I got such a kick out of the interaction these young men had with each other and with their teacher. They eventually got organized and finished their set-up, but it did take a bit of effort to focus their efforts.
The students are getting pretty comfortable with the techniques to do PCR experiments. If they had a bit more time for the course, or if they could repeat this class, they would really become proficient with this aspect of biotechnology.
After the thermocycler started the run, I spent some time talking to the students about ISSRs, population genetic studies, biogeography, and miscellaneous things about lab benchwork. I talked a lot about the differences in how my lab approaches a project in terms of lab notebooks, general protocols, and workflow compared to what they are doing in a high school classroom setting.
I really am impressed with what is going on here at Polk County High School, and I hope the program grows in leaps and bounds. I think it would be great if the students who take this biotech course could continue the work in a follow-on course or independent study. Jennifer explained that they have to start over each time the course is offered – beginning with new students who have no background in DNA vocabulary and techniques, and finishing with students who know their way around a PCR experiment. However, once they’re trained, they leave the course and don’t get to gather the actual data.
From my perspective as a scientist who works with undergraduate researchers, I would find students who arrive at university with basic bench techniques already accomplished to be very attractive recruits to my program. Undergraduate research is really becoming an essential part of the science curriculum at most universities, and students who have a head start from high school will land positions in laboratories pretty easily compared to students who have no experience as they start their college careers.