Posted By Kristina M Herbert,
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
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Young Women In Bio-Southern California’s (YWIB-Southern California's) first of three virtual experiential summer learning events for middle and high school students, entitled “DNA on Display!”, took place last week on Zoom. The event was designed to encourage young women and girls to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) interests and become tomorrow’s leaders that will help to bridge the gender gap and foster diversity in STEM. Over 34 students from more than 20 schools in Southern California and additional locations across the country participated in this event to bring science-themed jewelry to students. Sponsored by Scientist.com and New England Bio Labs, YWIB-Southern California was able to send jewelry and science supplies to registered students so that they would be able to engage in hands-on learning, even in this remote setting. The event featured Julia Picker, Kaitlyn Wang, Lily Pfeizer, April Zou, and Kaley Mafong from Biopolis, a student-run organization at Canyon Crest Academy that engages San Diego youth in exciting experiments in order to ignite an early love of science, as well as Kjerstie Bourne a sale representative at Elim Bio a Contract Research Organization (CRO) that provides a variety of DNA sequencing and purification services.
Dr. Kristina Herbert – the Chair of YWIB-Southern California initiated the event with a brief introduction to YWIB – telling the audience that “YWIB gives girls today the inspiration and support they need to become tomorrow’s leaders in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).” She expressed enthusiasm that the new virtual format for events would allow YWIB to reach even more students in the future, potentially students not located near one of YWIB’s 13 chapters in North America. Dr. Herbert encouraged participants to attend events at any one of these chapters and gave brief introductions to both the National YWIB Ambassador initiative, launched this past Spring, and the YWIB-Southern California Biotech Influencers program, which will start in the Fall.
Then Julia and Kaitlyn gave a short introduction to themselves and Biopolis, the science outreach organization the two co-founded. Julia explained that Biopolis was initiated and is still run off of funds the organization earned from a summer 2019 biotech camp they hosted for younger students in their community of Carmel Valley. These funds have allowed them to engage underserved youth in hands-on STEM activities. Biopolis has partnered with Solutions for Change, an organization that provides services to help families escape homelessness, organizing STEM-themed activities for the children, while parents attend meetings or educational services. Kaitlyn also described their partnership with the Children’s Initiative to bring after school STEM activities targeting 4th through 6th graders. Studies have found that if students within this age range develop an interest in STEM during these years, they are much more likely to pursue it later in life. The girls also advertised their new virtual camp for this summer (https://www.projectbiopolis.org/virtual-science-enrichment-classes), the proceeds of which will allow them to continue to do STEM outreach in the Fall.
The young women of Biopolis were truly inspirational, with each girl Julia, Kaitlyn, Lily, April, and Kaley, describing what excites them about science. Whether it’s the ability to discover something new that nobody has observed before, understanding the world better, being able to help society with the discovery of a drug or vaccine, or getting to work with others towards a common goal, they are all passionate about the work they do in Biopolis. Lily expanded on how working with Biopolis allowed her to discover that communicating and teaching science brings her happiness. Then, Julia and Kaitlyn encouraged students to pursue internships in research labs for the summer, emphasizing the number of e-mails that one might need to send before finally getting a positive response, and Lilly described ways to get involved in STEM within schools.
Next, the young women of Biopolis described the science of DNA extraction and what each of the steps are designed to accomplish. The dish soap dissolves the fatty cell membranes in order to release the cellular contents, including DNA. Pineapple juice, contact lens solution, or meat tenderizer is added to further degrade the other contents of the cells. Salt is added to neutralize the negatively charged DNA backbone allowing DNA to fold on itself and then isopropyl alcohol is added to finally precipitate the DNA. Julia demonstrated the extraction from her own saliva and then showed students how to add the their very own DNA to the tiny vials that can be worn as a necklace. Kaitlyn showed everyone her extracted DNA necklace from a year ago, thus demonstrating the resilience of DNA!
At this point, the presentation transitioned to Kjerstie Bourne who described how an infection with Valley Fever as a child, prompted her father, a professor of sociology, to partner with MDs and Phds to initiate a study to learn more about the disease and this experience ignited her love of science. Her love of science and interest in biotechnology stems from a desire to help others. She also emphasized that science has been an amazingly interesting, engaging, and also flexible career for her. She was able to change what she was doing based on her family and children's needs.
As Kjerstie currently works at a CRO that provides DNA sequencing and purification services, she explained that a CRO provides services for other research organizations, including both biotech and pharmaceutical companies as well as academic researchers. She explained that DNA is being used to trace people’s family history, for genetic testing, and medical diagnostics, as well as forensics, anthropology, paleontology, and archeology. Kjerstie provided insight on the molecular structure of DNA, but then also what DNA looks like when the scientists at Elim Bio receive it from researchers. Researchers often add circular DNA constructs called plasmids to bacteria to propagate and produce lots more of a particular DNA sequence; so Elim often gets DNA in bacteria either grown on agar plates, pelleted to the bottom of small Eppendorf tubes, or grown in culture in 96 well plates. Bacteria can also be provided in glycerol which can be frozen and woken up to grow later. Finally, DNA can also be extracted like the Biopolis young women showed us and dried in a tube. For their clients, Elim might then either purify the desired DNA from the bacteria in a quick format called a mini-prep or they might perform additional purification processes to ensure the DNA is free of bacteria known as endotoxins so that the DNA can be used in vivo without promoting an immune response to the bacteria. Elim also provides DNA sequencing and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) services. Since the next YWIB-Southern California summer series event, is going to focus on DNA sequencing technology, Kjerstie rather showed a wonderful video to demonstrate the way in which PCR allows one to amplify a specific sequence of DNA to create a ton of copies.
The event ended with Biopolis, Kjerstie, and Kristina fielding questions about DNA extraction. It was noticed, for example, that the color of the dish soap influences the color of the extracted DNA, so students were encouraged to try different things to optimize their own DNA extractions!