Note: This post is based on a story from The Modesto Bee
There’s no reason why the wonders of science should be restricted to the higher reaches of the academy or locked away in clandestine laboratories. It shouldn’t belong to an exclusive circle. That knowledge should, however, be made available to all who wish to learn, participate, and grow in scientific study. The bad news is, some people think that science is all about older folks and white lab coats. The good news? A group of students from a Northern California high school have turned that misconception on its head, forming a club of nascent molecular biologists.
On Wednesdays, these particularly driven students at Modesto High School log several extra hours after normal school hours in order to participate in a molecular biology club. The club has a fascinating mission. Instead of it’s existence being predicated on learning more about a subject or hosting experts in the field, the students find themselves engaging in legitimate, hands on work. Their immersion in molecular biology has them sequencing new genes. That’s right, gene sequencing is the primary dedication of the club.
One of the biggest features of the program, is the focus on duckweed. Because of duckweed’s many applications- from bioremediation, to absorption of heavy metals in liquid media, to it’s potential as biofuel- the students are encouraged to discover new genes in the aquatic plant. Newly discovered genes are verified and later published in a national database.
The club has only been around for three years, but it has already discovered 20 new genes. Especially by other extracurricular standards, this an extremely advanced scholastic activity. In fact, the provenance of Modesto’s molecular biology club is Rutgers University. The program was later brought to California by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a federally funded research and development center co-founded by University of California. It is a seamless combination of both wet lab work, and studies around computational biology. In this way, the talented high schoolers are able to get both sides of biological studies: traditional experiments on one hand, and computer simulation on the other.
There is also a strong sense of duty to spread this program to other schools, too. In fact, the high school biology teacher, Jeff Austin, teams up with several other educators (including a Rutgers University Professor) in order to talk about the ways that other teachers can bring the program to their respective high schools.