Hands-On Biotechnology

A New Partnership with Cold Spring Harbor DNA Learning Center
Sweetener for your morning coffee. A glass of wine with dinner. Antibiotics for the flu. Laundry day? You’ll need detergent. Most of us do not realize it, but biotechnology impacts our everyday lives. Biotechnology is the branch of biology that uses living organisms in engineering, technology and medicine to develop advanced products. In its most rudimentary form, biotechnology has been used for tens of thousands of years, beginning with the domestication of plants and animals, but modern bio-technology focuses on the manipulation of genes and placing these genes in organisms. Grace students in grades 5-12 have the unique opportunity to study biotechnology with scientists at the first science center devoted entirely to genetics education, the DNA Learning Center in Cold Spring Harbor.
The DNA Learning Center is the largest provider of hands-on genetics education, working with over 30,000 students in the New York area each year. For the last three years, Grace high school students have participated in the Summer Biotechnology Research Program, and, with the help of the Annual Fund, the partnership with the DNA Learning Center has expanded to include programs for middle school students as well.
The three-week Biotechnology Summer Program is exclusively accessible to Grace students and is open to all levels of learners. Cindy Jackson, High School Science Coordinator, organizes the program and has helped to facilitate the partnership with the DNA Learning Center. “This complete program of educational enrichment in modern biology provides priority access to lab and computer instructional expertise,” she explained. “The DNA Learning Center will work with both middle school and high school students by conducting DNA experiments on campus during the school year and the Biotechnology Summer Research program again this June.”
Senior Eden S. participated in the summer program two years ago before taking Advanced Topics in Biology in 11th grade. “I found the technical skills I learned from the summer course to be pretty helpful,” she said. “We spent a lot of time learning about common procedural tools and techniques such as micropipettes, centrifuges and gel electrophoresis, and I think that the familiarity I gained was extremely valuable and definitely helped me for all that I did after the program ended.”
The biotechnology programming has helped students realize their potential in the sciences that they may have otherwise overlooked. Julia P. ’20 describes herself as a “diehard arts student” and since taking the summer course has worked as a lab assistant at the DNA Learning Center’s Harlem location. “Without this course, I would not have discovered my love for the study of genetics. While my passion for things like music and dance has not faded, I found myself genuinely interested in what I was learning.” Now that she is a lab assistant, she is able to work with many of the materials used in the research lab. “It’s a stress-free, fun way to learn,” she explained.
This year, students in Grade 7 were the first group of middle school students to reap the benefits of the extended partnership. In February, two science classes spent the day at the DNA Learning Center in Cold Spring Harbor. Ava H. ’24 was inspired by the work they did at the Learning Center. “I think it’s important to see real scientists actually doing what we’re learning in class,” she said. “We used pipettes to insert a green fluorescent protein gene with fluorescent characteristics into E. coli and put the E. coli on top of food. We had a control and an experiment and we were able to see the E. coli over the next couple of weeks because it would glow. It was inspiring to work in that lab and see first-hand what they do. Not many seventh graders get an opportunity like that.”
Seventh grade students study life science—DNA and cell mitosis—so they had a general understanding of the experiment before arriving at the DNA Learning Center. “Understanding the real-world applications of working with DNA is crucial to building meaning,” Morika Tsujimura, seventh grade science teacher explained. The real-world experience that this partnership provides is invaluable to the students. Adam H. ’24 said “It made everything we have been learning more relatable to real life.”