Biology pupils have the chance to participate in advanced biotechnology experiments

For the last three weeks in Biology, all pupils studying A level or IB Biology (and some pupils in Years 10 and 11) have had the chance to participate in some advanced biotechnology experiments, courtesy of the AMGEN project that we are part of. The department has borrowed some lab-grade equipment for this time and carried out some genetic experiments that most pupils would not get the chance to do unless they went to university.

Year 12 pupils carried out genetic engineering, using a restriction enzyme to cut a red fluorescent protein (rfp) gene and its promotor sequence out of a DNA plasmid and then used the same restriction enzyme to cut another plasmid (which contained an activator sequence for the gene). These were combined using a ligase enzyme, in the hope that the rfp gene and promotor could then be inserted into the plasmid with the activator sequence, creating a functioning gene which could be expressed. Pupils carried out PCR (polymerase chain reaction) on the DNA to amplify it and then ran the fragments of DNA in a gel electrophoresis experiment and stained the resulting gel to see if they could identify if they had obtained the desired gene (as the plasmid with the gene would have a specific size, we could see if it was present).

Year 13 did the same experiment, but took it one step further and tried to genetically engineer bacteria so that they contained and expressed this gene. They were able to transform these bacteria so they expressed the protein and this was evident when they were grown on a plate, as some of these bacterial colonies were glowing pink in colour showing that they had been successfully transformed. 

DNA gel electrophoresis, PCR and genetic engineering are all part of the material covered at A level and IB and the pupils really enjoyed having the chance to not only learn about them but practically experience what it was like to do these advanced experiments.

In addition to this, some groups of Year 10 and 11 pupils had the chance to use this equipment by amplifying DNA (using PCR) and analysing the sequences in gel electrophoresis to determine the guilty party in a mock ‘who stole the Biology platypus’ scenario! They also had a chance to use some of the equipment and techniques that are usually reserved for university laboratories and all enjoyed the chance to do so. 

Thanks to Dr Phil Smith for his help in the loan of the equipment and to AMGEN and the TSN.