Genes in Space collaborates with BioBuilder foundation on a hands-on workshop for educators
Genes in Space recently collaborated with BioBuilder Foundation to develop a full-day, hands-on workshop for educators. BioBuilder which seeks to improve STEM education by providing programming in the field of synthetic biology for both students and educators. We felt that this was the perfect collaboration because Genes in Space is equally committed to improving STEM education and synthetic biology may one day have many applications in space biology.
Educators at the Genes in Space BioBulder workshop
The workshop revolved around BioBuilder's Golden Bread activity. The lab explored the biosynthetic pathway of beta-carotene, the molecule that is processed in the body into Vitamin A. The teachers worked with Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a species of yeast used in bread making and brewing as well as in the lab, that had been engineered to produce beta-carotene by adding three genes from other fungi. Some of the modified yeast were a bright orange color – a good indication that they were producing beta-carotene - but some were white, yellow and red indicating that perhaps some of the genes involved in beta-carotene production had been lost.
The workshop participants used PCR and gel electrophoresis to test different colored yeast colonies for the presence of one of the beta-carotene synthesis genes, crtYB. First, they extracted DNA from yeast colonies then used PCR to amplify two genes from the extracted DNA: crtYB, necessary for beta-carotene biosynthesis, and ACT1, a cytoskeletal gene expected to be expressed in all S. cerevisiae. Finally, they used gel electrophoresis to visualize and interpret the PCR results.
Educators prepare PCR reactions
While the results of the experiment were inconclusive, the educators who participated in the workshop gained valuable DNA analysis skills. They also had the opportunity to learn more about the process of engineering organisms using synthetic biology and to brainstorm their own Genes in Space ideas. We are deeply grateful to Natalie Kuldell and Kelley Klor of the BioBuilder Foundation for collaborating with us to develop and organize this workshop and to Penny Devoe of New England Biolabs for helping educators attend the workshop. Finally we wish to thank New England Biolabs for providing funds to allow a number of teachers to participate.