CSI: Charlottetown Rural

Grade 12 biology students at the high school analyzing DNA and taking labs on gene splicing

Dave Stewart dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on June 24, 2014

Grade 12 biology students at Charlottetown Rural High School are studying DNA and gene splicing in class these days thanks to a grant from BioVectra Inc. From left are student Niki Triantafillou, Cydney Lantz and Shae-Lynn Pugh.

©Guardian photo by Heather Taweel

Biology students at Charlottetown Rural High School got to experience being crime scene investigators.

Thanks to a $2,500 grant from BioVectra Inc., the high school began teaching modern lab skills and techniques in the field of biotechnology this year.

Those classes involve DNA amplification and profiling as well as a lab on gene splicing.

“I think it’s an awesome experience because these are skills that we will actually be able to use someday,’’ says Grade 12 biology student Shae-Lynn Pugh. “You see it on TV every day. Being able to actually do it feels important and it’s hands-on experience.’’

The grant from BioVectra was used to purchase consumable supplies to run two biotech labs for all Grade 12 biology classes. That involved about 140 students this year.

DNA profiling is used in forensic labs for things like criminal cases and paternity tests.

With gene splicing, students took a glow-in-the-dark gene from jelly fish and introduced a bacteria.

Patricia Shields, biology teacher at Charlottetown Rural, said it’s a technique used in modern science to create insulin or see how cells communicate when it comes to cancer.

“They take the human insulin gene and they can splice it into bacteria and have the bacteria produce insulin, purify it and extract it,’’ Shields says. “It’s pretty amazing science, really.’’

The purpose is to expose students to modern lab skills and techniques, showing them there are viable and rewarding careers in the biotech field.

“I think we’ve always done a good job teaching the traditional lab skills. I felt, though, that it was important that they learn these modern techniques. The world has changed,’’ Shields says.

“If you look at the impact that science has had on society over the past two decades, I think we really need to embrace that and show it to students, what an important role it plays and to give them exposure to this.’’

Cydney Lantz, another Grade 12 biology student, says it opened up a whole other world to pupils.

“This gives us another opportunity. I think Holland College has a course if you’re interested in that,’’ Lantz said. “I didn’t know about any of this stuff.’’

Her friend Niki Triantafillou says students often wonder how some of the subjects they take in school are going to benefit them down the road. That’s not the case with the lab classes.

“You can relate to this,’’ Triantafillou said. “You know that people need insulin and that there are crime scenes out there.’’

Shields says it wouldn’t surprise her at all to see some of her students working at BioVectra some day.

“They would be lucky to have them, I will tell you that; in any capacity of the business,’’ Shields says, referring to Triantafillou, Lantz and Pugh.




In summary

- BioVectra Inc. in Charlottetown gave Charlottetown Rural High School a $2,500 grant.

- That money is being used to modernize biology classes at the school.

- Grade 12 biology students learned about DNA amplification and profiling this year, as well as gene splicing.

- Approximately 140 students took the classes.