Dordt College News

High schoolers learn about PCR and DNA

June 23, 2014

Local high school students are getting more hands-on lab experience thanks to members of Dordt’s science faculty.

In late March, Dr. Jeff Ploegstra and Dr. Darren Stoub, along with lab instructor Brittany De Ruyter and Senior Hannah Van Maanen, led a week-long molecular biology workshop at Western Christian High School in Hull, Iowa.

“The workshop was a great opportunity for high school students, who typically don’t have access to molecular biology research equipment, to actually touch and use electrophoresis gels, micropipettes, and the chemicals required for PCR (Polymerase chain reaction), which enables researchers to produce copies of a specific DNA sequence,” says Alysia Haveman (’01), a science teacher at Western. 

“It’s fun to actually do this stuff and not just learn about it,” one student told Havemen.

Students tested their own DNA to see whether they had a gene variant that predisposed them toward power during athletic activity or one that predisposed them toward endurance.

“The fact that only about 25 percent of the students received genetic results was an “eye opener” for them,” says Haveman. “They were dismayed by this; but it opened their eyes to the fact that science takes careful precision and often repetition in order to get sound results. Science takes questioning what went wrong and being persistent.” 

“Studying genetics requires equipment that high schools can’t usually afford and, even if they could, they wouldn’t use often enough to justify the cost,” says Ploegstra. The workshop led by Dordt instructors helped give high school students an introduction to a field of science they know little about.

Genetics is becoming increasingly important in today’s society. It’s already a huge part of agriculture and will become bigger and bigger in medicine, Ploegstra believes. In addition to providing opportunities to do more hands-on science, Ploegstra hopes such workshops will start high school students thinking about the many ethical questions that accompany developments in the field, questions like: “What does it mean to be human, to be fearfully and wonderfully made? Is difference beautiful or is it a failure in process or development?"

“I hope the workshop sparked scientific curiosity in students,” said Haveman. “I enjoyed working with professors Stoub and Ploegstra on this experience. Their expertise and willingness to work with students on a lower level than what they are typically used to was invaluable.”

“It was especially meaningful to me to have both Brittany DeRuyter and Hannah Van Maanen in the classroom during that week. They were both superb students of mine in the 10th grade, and to watch them give back to a program that is part of molding their kingdom service as adults was gratifying to me.”

Sally Jongsma

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