Academics, Upper School

Biology Students Match DNA Samples

Thanks to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's Science Education Partnership, Northwest 10th grade students recently engaged in real-life DNA manipulation. Specifically, they conducted a lab in electrophoresis, one of the methods used in DNA matching for criminal investigations.

"We talk so much in terms of molecular structure in biology, which can be hard to visualize and understand the meaning," says biology teacher Kathryn Wallace. "This lab allows us to actually turn on a light and see the DNA patterns, and see which ones are matching. Visualizing these examples goes very far to promote and inspire learning."

Gel electrophoresis is a process in which DNA is 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 larger ones. The end result is a banding pattern that is unique to just one person (except in cases of identical twins).

"This is a real-life application of DNA fingerprinting," explains Kathryn.

This lab opportunity is a benefit of a program Kathryn participated in at Fred Hutchinson over the summer of 2017. Its goal is to further technology and science in the classroom by promoting access to a lending library. Kathryn estimated the overall cost of the machines used for the electrophoresis lab was roughly $10,000.

Many students were excited by the lab, especially because they used equipment not commonly seen in a biology class room, such as centrifuges and the electrophoresis chamber.

Says Greta H.: "This lab helped us see how and why the structure of DNA is important, and it was fun to do it in a real-life CSI sort of laboratory.”