Bringing challenging DNA science topics into the classroom
Heidelberg, 29 September - 1 October 2008
This LearningLABs was designed to support high school teachers to tackle DNA science related issues in the classroom. Through a range of exciting activities (seminars, hands-on, educational games and bioinformatics), participants got insights into DNA technology, its applications and risks, gaining the confidence needed to approach these topics with their students in an integrated and proactive way.
The programme attracted an international group of motivated high school teachers from Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, UK, Romania, Slovenia and Turkey.
Margarida Oliveira, a group leader at the Instituto Biologia Experimental e Technologia (ITQB, Portugal), gave a seminar on genetic modification technology, strategies and applications. Participants had the opportunity to recapitulate and extend their knowledge on this topic by playing a Democs (deliberative meeting of citizens) card-based game developed by the New Economics Foundation (Nef). They were faced with case-study stories related to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and they had the opportunity to structure their opinions and to vote on what they would recommend the Government or other decision-makers to do. EMBL PhD students Archana Bairavasundaram Prusty, Fay Christodoulou and Stella Lamprinaki as well as Education Officer Alexandra Manaia each led a discussion group.
Three hands-on activities were performed during the LearningLABs:
- Tumour talk: one of the "DNA on the road" modules run by the DNA–Labs at the Cancer Genomics Centre (CGC), University Medical Center, Utrecht, Netherlands. We were very pleased that CGC Education Officers Carin Cruijsen and Marc Van Mil could come to EMBL to instruct this very interesting activity, where teachers played the role of molecular biology scientists compareing virtual patients' tumour DNA with healthy cell DNA samples in order to figure out the best therapeutics strategies.
- Nature's Dice: an activity designed by the National Centre for Biotechnology (NCBE) to be specially to be used in the classroom. Assisted by EMBL PhD students Agnieska Zdanowicz, Anne-Marie Glynn and Elisa Dultz, teachers used the information obtained from DNA samples belonging to a fictitious family to identify the genotype of each individual and determine the pattern of inheritance a disease. Confidentiality of information and ethical concerns were also discussed.
- Transformation: a classroom activity designed by Bio-Rad. It involved introducing a foreign gene – the sequence coding for the Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) - which is present in the plasmid into E. coli bacteria, thus giving rise to fluorescent colonies. EMBL PhD students Archana Bairavasundaram Prusty, Fay Christodoulou, Stella Lamprinaki assisted the teachers to successfully perform this experimental activity.
Tassos Koutsos, the creator of the "ELLS's best seller" DNA virtual microarray game, joined the LearningLABs to present and play his game with the participants in his unique enthusiastic style! In order to enable teachers to learn and transfer to their students the principle and the applications of microarray technology, Tassos created an experiment simulation in which players use a "virtual microarray" to explore the differences between healthy and sick cells. They reproduce microarray's manufacturing steps, conduct the experiment simulation and interpret the results.
The participants have also learnt about an area of knowledge that has a growing impact in modern biology: bioinformatics. We are very thankful to Celia W. G van Gelder and Roobie Joosten from the Netherlands Bioinformatics Centre (NBIC) to have come to EMBL to instruct their DNA-lab "surfing your genes". After a general introduction to bioinformatics and its applications, Celia and Roobie guided the participants through modular activities aiming at identifying mysterious proteins using information from biological databases. The teachers also learned how to analyse proteins' 3D structures.
You will find here further bioinformatics resources aimed at high school teachers and students developed by the NBIC.
Many thanks to all scientific contributors and to the high school teachers!
We hope to meet at future LearningLABs at EMBL!