Academics, Upper School

Biology Students Match DNA Patterns

Sophomore biology students extensively study DNA and proteins throughout Trimester 3. One highlight of the curriculum is the electrophoresis lab, which is a process that visualizes DNA patterns and is one of the methods used in DNA matching for criminal investigations.

“It was a difficult lab, because you had to get the DNA in the well just right,” says Luc W. “It was cool to see and made me respect the process of laboratory sciences more by doing the lab.”

Gel electrophoresis is a process in which DNA samples are placed in a gel substance that is charged by electricity. Because DNA is negatively charged, the DNA strands move through the gel towards the positively charged end, with smaller DNA molecules moving further than large ones. The result is a banding pattern that is unique to each person (except for identical twins).

The lab is challenging and requires teamwork, focus, and precision. The students use micropipettes, which control volume by the microliter (1000 microliters equal one milliliter) to place the DNA samples in small wells within the gel substance.

The lab intrigued many students because it illustrated how other scientific disciplines work together with biology.

Says Isaac D. “We have DNA and we can conduct electricity. In that specific way, physics and biology interact to create an outcome I previously never thought about.”

The lab is a benefit of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Science Education Partnership, which creates a lending library of labs for schools across the state to use in the classroom.