Hunting the DNA of GMOs at CCC


Flagstaff, Ariz. -- The students gather at their stations in the classroom. Their safety goggles are on, and their latex gloves ensure pure samples.


"Draw the liquid up, and we're going to put it on wax paper," says Christina Baze, general biology instructor at Coconino Community College. "Twenty microliters. Touch the tip to the wax paper. One bead. Now, it's touched something, so it's no longer sterile. Put it in a used beaker."


The students, part of BIO 100, are attempting to discover whether the foods they eat have been genetically modified as part of their studies. The exercise has been made possible with the purchase in March of several pieces of equipment from Bio-Rad Laboratories, including a thermal cycler.


"With a thermal cycler, you can amplify DNA," Baze says. "The students extract DNA from a food product and amplify target sequences common in plants and genetically modified plants."


The samples are run through a process called gel electrophoresis to separate DNA fragments based on size.


"If the target sequence was present and was amplified, it will show up as a band," Baze says. "And if they see a certain band, they will see that it has a GMO crop in it."


The lab is part of a series of four labs, Baze adds. In the first lab, the students actually do the DNA extraction from purchased food. During the second lab, the students amplify the samples with the thermal cycler. The third lab runs the samples through the gel electrophoresis. The final lab is a discussion on the pros and cons of genetically modified crops.


"I assign them a side to the debate," Baze says. Either the food is "safe" or "not safe." "That forces a lot of them to step outside their own perspective and objectively research the facts."


The lab series is a critical thinking project to teach the students how to evaluate sources, Baze says.


"There are so many things out there where the credibility is suspect," Baze says. "Especially on this topic. It's just everywhere."


The lab testing shows the students that the genetic modifications are present, but the testing does not determine whether or not they are harmful for consumption.


The hope is that the students will learn to apply the concepts of critical thinking they learn in order to understand what genetically modified organisms are.


"Most students arrive at class not even knowing what a GMO is," Baze says.


A GMO is an organism modified genetically by a human. DNA is transferred from a donor species into a target species in order to give that target species a desirable trait, Baze says. For instance, freeze-resistant tomatoes contain a gene from a fish that lives in Antarctica that lowers the freezing point of the fish's blood - a natural antifreeze.


The students have completed the first three labs, and Baze says she is happy with the results.


"It was successful," she says. "Most groups had some bands on the gels, which indicates the extraction, the amplification and the electrophoresis were successful. There are a lot of things that can go wrong in that sequence of labs, so it was nice to have some successes."


Ana Novak, the CCC Science Lab Coordinator says the thermal cycler was purchased along with a centrifuge and other lab equipment to enable students to extract DNA, amplify it and study it for the presence of GMOs.


Baze adds that the College doesn't just have to use the thermal cycler for biology class.


"Since now the college owns the equipment, it might open up some possibilities for the other disciplines," Baze said.


As an example, Administration of Justice students studying forensics might benefit from the Thermal Cycler in the examination and amplification of DNA from crime scenes.


The thermal cycler and associated equipment was purchased for about $6,300 from a state grant of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics funds to CCC.



Wednesday, 21st June 2017

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  • Wednesday, 21st June 2017