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OMS students analyze DNA in paternity lab

Oswego Middle School students recently performed a college-level science exercise where they analyzed DNA samples to determine paternity.
Under the direction of science teacher Catherine Celeste and math teacher Sarah Davis, the full-day, hands-on science lab served as a pre-cursor to the students’ modern genetics unit in February. Celeste said the DNA activity occurred in late fall because that is when the lending library kit from Cornell University was available.
OMS students in Celeste’s life science and accelerated science classes completed the activity. The deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) profiling lesson, she said, was complex, but her students “rocked it.” They first reviewed DNA information, terminology and necessary tools for the exercise and followed along with a thick packet that provide visuals, questions to answer along the way and space to take observation notes.
With $20,000 worth of equipment borrowed from Cornell University, the OMS students were able to cut real DNA using restriction enzymes and load them into an opaque gel they created. Celeste said that required precision, patience, practice and teamwork because tiny wells just a millimeter wide had to be created in the gel pad and the DNA amounted to just thousandths of a milliliter. The DNA was then run through an electric current, which separated the DNA based on size.
“This is really student-run,” Davis said.
While that electrophoresis ran, students kept busy by completing a DNA spooling activity to create a necklace. After lunch, provided by the teachers, the students (in their small groups) compared their DNA bands to determine who the father was, out of two examples. The students could see which “mom” and “dad” the baby got its DNA from by observing which samples properly lined up.
Celeste said the students’ attention to detail, self-confidence, periods of trial-and-error and understanding that mistakes are ways to re-teach and self-educate were a part of what made the day so successful.
The lab was first offered to Oswego High School students when Celeste taught there, but she said she had confidence that the OMS students would be ready, engaged and thrilled with the lesson; and they didn’t disappoint. She said she is happy the students will have something to connect with when their related academic unit begins in February.

Clara Back, Oswego Middle School eighth-grader participates in a recent hands-on DNA activity
where she helped her team prepare for the most critical part of the exercise: pipetting materials
into a tiny allotted space on an opaque gel pad.

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