“Can I resurrect my puppy?” and other DNA Microscopy questions from Thailand

 

Russell Durrett with MicroGlobalScope grantees of Ms. Gwenn Pettitt's 4th Grade Biology class in Bangkok, Thailand

MicroGlobalScope science advisor Russell Durrett Reports from his recent trip to Bangkok, Thailand.

What can we do with DNA? Can I resurrect my puppy? Can you mix some zebra cells with eagle DNA so it can fly? These are some of the questions MicroGlobalScope science advisor Russell Durrett fielded on his recent trip to Thailand to meet with MicroGlobalScope grantees.

In what he described as “an awesomely good time,” Russell visited the classroom of MicroGlobalScope grantee Ms. Gwenn Pettitt at the International Community School in Bangkok, Thailand. Russell is a Synthetic Biologist and Co-Founder of GenSpace NYC , a non-profit community biology lab located in Brooklyn, NY, that provides professional biology laboratory space for individuals to conduct molecular biology research cheaply and safely.

Russell spent a few days speaking with Ms. Pettitt’s elementary class, the high school AP biology classes and some kids interested in genetic engineering as well biology and microscopy.

“I started coordinating with Ms. Pettitt early in January. She started talking to the other teachers in the school and I ended up speaking to the 4th graders in the morning, the 9th grade biology class at noon, the upper-class high school biology classes that afternoon and then the 4th grade after school program where we did the microscopy and fruit extraction experiments.

 

Students prepare their fruit extraction materials.

“The really cool thing I noticed was that the high schoolers were asking the same questions as the 4th graders. ‘What can we do with DNA?’ ‘Can I resurrect my puppy?’ ‘Can you mix some zebra cells with eagle DNA so it can fly?’ ‘Why are people making things that glow so often, and how does that work?’ All the students knew that certain traits were due to certain genes being present, but not really how DNA translated into a phenotype.

“One of the students, was curious about the difference between Asian people and Caucasian people and if I could tell if I compared her and my DNAs.”

During the DNA extraction, the most common question was what you can do after you extract it.

Q: ‘Can you tell the difference between the watermelon and the dragon fruit’?

A: ‘If I cut them with the same pair of DNA scissors, then I can compare the chunks with those I know come from watermelon and dragon fruit’

 

Materials for the microscopy challenge await the microscope.

“The microscopy challenge was to image crystals,” Russell said. “They did a pretty good job. We had brown sugar, sugar, instant coffee, instant green tea (both vacuum dehydrated, so they had ok crystals) and possibly some other stuff. Bangkok is built on a marshland, so they typically find some cool bugs around their school and image them. In all, they’re doing a great job and the kids are asking a lot of great questions. I’m looking forward to seeing this program expand in the future.”

Thanks for the update, Russell, and thanks to our intrepid MicroGlobalScope grantees for their passion for science!

MicroGlobalScope students show their serious side.

One Comment to ““Can I resurrect my puppy?” and other DNA Microscopy questions from Thailand”

  1. What an exciting story!

    I recently spent time at Russell’s other enterprise, GenSpace, where I learned several experiments in synthetic biology (one of them, when complete, produced a strong odor of bananas).

    It’s very exciting to see Russell “in the field”, sharing science with an important contingent of our MicroGlobalScope community.

    I was very lucky (a long, long time ago) to have had teachers like Mrs. Pettitt. Perhaps that’s why I chose science as a career.

    Congratulations to ICS Bangkok for all of your fine work with MicroGlobalScope and also for your new research experience with our friend and advisor, Russell Durrett. I hope we all meet in person some day.

    Sincerely,
    Dan Menelly
    Einstein Fellow, National Science Foundation, Arlington VA
    Advisor, Science House, New York NY

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