Students and teachers learn how to do budget-friendly research


TUSKEGEE, Ala. (June 25, 2014) — The College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences recently introduced a group of high school teachers and students to the wonders of the laboratory. For the second year, the Plant Genomics and Biotechnology Workshop, a hands-on summer program, helped the group explore the fun and economical side of research. 

Clump of extracted banana dna.
Using inexpensive household items, the participants learned more about subjects such as plant genetics, infectious diseases, biotechnology, research and laboratory skills. They also learned how to how to extract DNA from materials such as bananas, orange juice and their own cheek cells. 

For example, using a mixture of water, cheap shampoo, salt, and ethanol alcohol, the group was able to separate the DNA in the liquid from pureed and strained bananas. The clump of stringy white strands of genetic material was easily visible to the naked eye.

“For the teachers, we want them to learn these economical and simplified ways of doing these high-tech experiments for the class and teach their students,” said Jacquelyn Jackson, research assistant professor of molecular biology and genetics.

Jackson said the students in the workshop learn problem-solving skills and gain research experience that could impact their future careers. 

“This gives them exposure to molecular biology,” she said. “Hopefully, it will open their eyes to a different avenue and maybe channel their interest.”

The workshop took place June 18- 21. It is part of a five-year grant from the United States Department of Agriculture. It is also a collaborative effort of Tuskegee and Iowa State University. 

This year, Mike Zeller, the biotechnology outreach education coordinator at Iowa State, taught many of the workshop’s classes. Zeller, who spent 24 years as a high school teacher, is familiar with strapped education budgets. He is committed to helping bring down the cost of research. To date, he has created nearly 30 experiments for classrooms with limited budgets. 

“Biology, this is the world right now,” Zeller said. “It makes sense to help get the next generation ready.”

The program is funded by a grant from United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The grant’s principal investigator is C.S. Prakash. Jackson and Melissa Johnson are the co-principal investigators and organizers. 

To learn more about the program, go to:

Extracting cheek cell dna.

Mr. Zeller teaches class.

© 2014 Tuskegee University

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