The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

February 9, 2013

Spam under study

Danville High students do DNA analysis

DANVILLE — Using a scientific syringe called a pipette, Alexandra Elliott, a New Tech biology student at Danville High School, put the finishing touches on her DNA project Friday morning.

“We’re experimenting on a pork chop,” she said as she carefully injected DNA material into a tiny test tube.

Alexandra’s project, as well as that of her classmates in Doug Mathias’ class, will be sent off to a lab that will analyze the material and provide a DNA sequence — or genetic barcode — that will help the students determine the genetic makeup of an animal or meat.

When the barcodes arrive later next week, the students hope to receive answers to their questions, such as what exactly are the ingredients in Spam?

“They have a (computer) program called BLAST that they’ll run the barcode through that will tell them what it could be,” Mathias said of the students.

All this week the students used sophisticated scientific equipment to extract DNA from a variety of items, including dog hair and saliva and packaged meats.

DHS was selected as one of only six schools in the nation to pilot the genetics course funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Besides Danville, the course also was being piloted in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Cleveland.

The pilot course encourages problem-based learning — a new way for students to learn in the 21st century — which is the basis of DHS’ New Tech program.

On Friday, sophomore Makinlynn New studied the saliva from a friend’s dog. The genetic barcode next week will help her determine whether the dog is a purebred or a combination of many breeds.

Fellow classmate Shannon Felton held up a test tube with earthworm particles in it.

“Mr. Mathias brought in an earthworm, but I had to dissect it,” Shannon said.

The DHS junior said she is looking forward to receiving the DNA results from the lab next week.

“I hope it will tell us what earthworms eat,” she said.

Shannon said she found the weeklong project to be interesting.

“It’s cool because we can find out different things, like if the meat we eat is really what they say it is,” she said.

That’s exactly what lab partners Justice Robinson and Casha Campbell, both sophomores, and Tajai Tate, a junior, hope to find out when they receive the DNA results of their meaty concoction.

“We took imitation crabmeat, a hot dog and a pork chop and mashed it all together,” Justice said.

“We did three things at once. It’s going to be a long list of (DNA) stuff,” she said of next week’s results. “This is fun.”

Tajai decided to take some pulled pork from the DHS cafeteria to be analyzed. Tajai said that depending on the DNA results, she may not want to eat that sandwich favorite again.

The class was supposed to use gel electrophoresis on their specimens that would have produced some DNA waves that would have given students some preliminary information, but Mathias said the class ended up having to skip that portion of the experiment.

“We didn’t have enough of the DNA to do it,” he said. “Electricity would have run through the gel to show bands for each species. They would have been able to see the barcode bands.”

Mathias said the work the students did Friday was taking the experiment “one step further by sending it to a lab” to get the DNA analyzed.

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