Exploring Genetics in AP Biology

By Ms. Stephanie Sparkman

Periodically throughout the year, LCS runs all-school Intersession Days. These days provide our students with unique programmatic offerings grounded in experiential and authentic learning activities designed to connect students with new perspectives, discover what they care about, and contribute meaningfully alongside peers to enrich their learning.

Mr. Arsenault and Ms. Sparkman’s Advanced Placement (AP) biology class had a unique opportunity to explore their own genetics as part of their January intersession experience. The goal of the day was to provide students with an opportunity to apply what they have been learning about genetics and genetic technologies in a hands-on and authentic experience.

Students were working towards visualizing their own DNA using gel electrophoresis and PCR (polymerase-chain-reaction) technologies. This process began with a simple swab of the cheek to obtain cells which DNA would then be extracted from. A combination of several reagents and incubation at varying temperatures allowed students to successfully isolate a specific section of their own DNA. The section of interest for this procedure was a non-coding region called PV92, which is an area of the DNA found on chromosome 16. 

The PV92 region is where the gene for an “Alu insert resides”. If an individual carries the gene for the Alu insert, this section of DNA would be longer than an individual who does not carry the gene. Because the PV92 region is non-coding, the presence or absence of the Alu insert does not mean anything for the individual - it is simply an extra piece of DNA that some have while others do not. Students were able to use PCR in order to amplify their isolated DNA sequence and create trillions of copies to be run through gel electrophoresis. Gel electrophoresis is a technology that allows students to determine the size of a particular DNA fragment. By determining the size of their DNA sequence, students could determine if they carried two copies of the Alu insert gene, one copy, or no copies (homozygous +/+, heterozygous +/-, homozygous -/-). 

Our talented and dedicated group of AP students remained focused and curious all day, which lead to some very insightful moments. Students were able to experience what laboratory work might look like and to develop many skills that they will continue to use throughout their careers in science. The AP class shared many moments of wonder and discovery, and made connections to the theory they have been learning in class. It was a fantastic way to spend a Friday!

Read more about our January intersession day in "Community Building, Creating and Coding for Intersession".
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Lakefield College School is a private, coeducational boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12, located in Lakefield, Ontario, Canada.

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