HudsonAlpha pumping energy into genetics and genomics education

STEM

Middle school teachers from across North Alabama are getting a hands-on experience to help their students understand who they are.

Welcome to the Middle School GPS Workshop

The HudsonAlpha Middle School GPS Workshop is focused on giving educators new ways to teach genetics and genomics inside their classrooms.

“We work with our friends at AMSTI, the Alabama State Department of Education,” said HudsonAlpha Educator Learning Specialist Jennifer Hutchison. “They have specialists throughout the state and they help us identify where there might be needs for classroom resources that can help teachers to hit that content.”

So the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology designed a new set of educational tools that will explain those concepts.

Activities inside of a box

“We have identified some areas in the 7th-grade course of study where there are needs for hands-on resources for our teachers to be able to teach students,” said Hutchison. “As a result of that, we actually developed two brand new kits that we are going to train the teachers on.”

The kits are pet-themed storylines.

The first kit is called “Gaudy Goldfish.” The other is called “Cat Conundrum.” The students will use these kits to learn about artificial selection and gene therapy.

Kit #1 Gaudy Goldfish

Students will use this kit to learn about artificial selection with fish. Researchers, or students, can use artificial selection to develop desirable traits in plants and animals.

Hutchison said students will pair two goldfish together to produce the most appealing offspring traits. Think of it as natural selection – except this involves human interference.

Kit #2 Cat Conundrum

“There’s a colony of cats at Auburn University that have been studied for quite a long time,” said Hutchison. “They call them shaky cats because they have symptomology in which they have issues with their gait and the way that they move.”

Symptomology is the study of the symptoms of diseases.

“As a result of the knowledge of those cats they have developed a gene therapy that allows them to insert a functioning gene into the cats so they produce an appropriate amount of enzymes that will break down the substrates that build up and causes the symptomology,” said Hutchison.

The cats walked better when they received that therapy. When the 7th-graders open up Kit #2, they’ll use locks and keys to understand the workings of gene therapy.

“Locks and keys are frequently used to model enzyme substrates. The keys are modeling the enzymes and the locks are modeling the substrates,” said Hutchison. “We actually map out a nerve cell on the floor and we actually have substrates moving into the cell and going to an enzyme.”

Hutchison said the students would be forming an enzyme-substrate complex to see if the key (the enzyme) is going to unlock the lock (the substrate.) If the key unlocks the lock – the lock moves out of the “cell” so it’s not “building-up.” In short – this is what you call gene therapy.

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