Trip to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Sneha Kelkar ’20
Kathryn Wilkinson ’20
EE Staff Writers

Students soaking samples in warm water to disrupt the porous cell membrane.

On May 2, 2018, sophomores from Trumbull High School enrolled in Advanced Placement and Honors Biology attended a field trip to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and the Dolan DNA Learning Center in Long Island, New York.

The first stop on the trip was the Dolan DNA Learning Center in which the students had the opportunity to perform a bacterial transformation lab. To begin, the students learned that an organism can be modified by altering its genes and adding a foreign gene to the organism’s genome (GMO). Scientists can insert a particular gene into a plasmid, a small circular piece of DNA, which is then inserted into the bacterial cell. Once inside the bacteria, the plasmid will divide and be present in all of the Once the plasmid is reentered into the cell via a vector, the bacterial cell will continue its cell division with the new gene inside like normal. With this the host cell will begin to produce the proteins encoded by the gene that was inserted into the plasmid. In the lab the students were able to test this process by adding  a Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) gene into the plasmid. The plasmid, containing the genetic material of the bacteria E.coli, was cut with a restriction enzyme, allowing the foreign DNA to be incorporated into the bacterial genome. In order to transform the bacteria, calcium ions were added and the samples were repeatedly cooled and then heated, which disrupted the porous cell membrane, allowing the pores to open and for the foreign gene to be incorporated fully. Once competent, the plasmids are inserted into the bacteria one with antibiotic and one without. They are then fed and poured onto 4 petri dishes, two of which were antibiotic resistant, containing food (Luria broth). After the lab activity was finished the end results of the lab showed the different reactions and transformations of the cells that were antibiotic resistant. The plates containing growth showed a visible green glow since the GFP gene was successfully transferred into the cell through the plasmid.

Students scraping E.Coli samples from petri dishes.

Along with this opportunity to enhance their understanding of bacterial transformation, the Learning Center also featured several exhibits on genetic research, body systems, and evolution for the students to explore. A replica of Ötzi the Iceman in the main gallery space gave students a peek into life in Neolithic Europe. The exhibit detailed how Otzi’s Y chromosome was thoroughly analyzed, revealing that his genetic line is still present in current populations. In addition to this, his mitochondrial DNA, transmitted from the mother to the offspring, is also being studied to determine his maternal lineage. With scientific research reaching new heights, allowing the scientific community to perform specialized research like such, places like the Dolan Learning Center are playing an essential role in educating the youth on these concepts. At the learning center, the students also watched a short film titled DNA: The Secret of Life which detailed the story of James Watson and Francis Crick in determining the double helical structure of DNA, as well as how their research has contributed to current research and breakthroughs in the field of human health and genetics.

Instructor at the learning center showing students a sample and demonstrating the experiment.

After their stop at the Learning Center, the students traveled to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to visit the laboratories and see the very place where Dr. James Watson, one of the men that determined the double helical structure of DNA, works almost everyday. On a guided tour, the students got a glimpse of where some of the most advanced research pertaining to cancer, neuroscience, genomics, quantitative biology, and plant biology is performed. Leading scientists in the field of biology made incredible discoveries in the same laboratories the students had to opportunity to see. In total, eight scientists that have performed research at Cold Spring Harbor have gone on to win the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.  Leading scientists in the field of biology made incredible discoveries in the same laboratories the students had to opportunity to see.

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