Maureen M. Munn, Maynard V. Olson and Leroy Hood
Department of Molecular Biotechnology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195
For the past two years, we have been developing a program that involves high school students in the excitement of genetic research by enabling them to participate in sequencing the human genome. This program provides high school teachers with the proper training, equipment, and support to lead their students through the exercise of sequencing small portions of DNA. The participating classrooms carry out two experimental modules, DNA synthesis (an introduction to DNA replication and the techniques used to study it) and DNA sequencing. Both of these experiments consist of three parts- synthesizing DNA fragments using Sequenase and a biotinlabeled primer, bench top electrophoresis using denaturing polyacrylamide gels, and colorimetric DNA detection that is specific for the biotinylated primer. Students analyze their sequencing data and enter it into a DNA assembly program. This year, in collaboration Eric Lynch and Mary-Claire King frorn the Department of Genetics at the University of Washington, the students will be sequencing a region of chromosome 5q that may be involved in a form of hereditary deafness.
Students also consider the ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) of genome research in a unit that explores the topic of presymptomatic testing for Huntington's disease (HD). This module was developed by Sharon Durfy and Robert Hansen from the Department of Medical History and Ethics at the University of Washington. It provides a scenario about a family that carries the HD allele, descriptions of the clinical and genetic aspects of the disorder, an exercise in drawing pedigrees and an autoradiograph showing the PCR assay used to detect HD. Students use an ethical decision-making model to decide whether, as a character from the scenario, they would be tested presymptomatically for the HD allele. Through this experience, they develop the skills to define ethical issues, ask and research the relevant questions about a particular topic and make justifiable ethical decisions.
In the first two years of this program, our focus was on the development of robust, classroom friendly modules that can be presented in up to six classes at one time. This year we will focus on disseminating this program to local, regional, and national sites. During a week-long workshop in July, 1995, we trained an additional thirteen high school teachers, bringing our current number to twenty teachers at thirteen schools. We have recruited local scientists to act as mentors to each of the schools and provide classroom support. On the regional level, four of our teachers are from outside the greater Seattle area and will be supported during the classroom experiments by scientists in their region. We have presented this program at national meetings and workshops, including the Human Genome Teacher Networking Project Workshop in Kansas City, KS (June, 1995) and the meeting of the National Association of Biology Teachers in Phoenix, AZ (October 1995). We have also distributed our modules to teachers and scientists throughout the nation to encourage the development of similar programs. This year we will also develop and pilot a module using automated sequencing. This will enable distant schools to participate in the program by providing them with the option of sending their DNA samples to the UW genome center for electrophoresis.
While we hope the human genome sequencing experience will interest some students in science careers, a broader goal is to encourage high school students to think constructively and creatively about the implications of scientific findings so that the coming generation of adults will make judicious decisions affecting public policies.
This work is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy under grant No. DE-FG0694ER61798.
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