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Teaching the teachers

Joel Stonington
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times
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The classroom at Aspen High School was slightly tense with excitement Friday morning as genetics expert David Micklos started the lesson. His students peppered him with questions every time he stopped to catch his breath. “We could potentially have our kids doing original research that could be publishable?” asked one pupil. Micklos, director of the Dolan DNA Learning Center, is teaching a group of Roaring Fork Valley high school teachers how to conduct DNA experiments. The teachers will then conduct the experiments in their classrooms, with the data they acquire to be used in a national database.

“They’re going to do individual experiments in an area on the cutting edge of research,” said Aspen Science Center director Kevin Ward. Micklos’ seminar, on the genetics of smell and taste, isn’t necessarily something most people would get excited about, or even understand. But in Aspen, his students were all ears.A handful of sixth graders, who were invited to attend the workshop along with a select group of middle and high school students, seemed to ask the most, and perhaps the smartest, questions.”Recently I’ve been interested in DNA for its possibilities in this century,” said 12-year-old Hayden Joy. “It’s the new age of genetics. We are going to be able to re-create woolly mammoths and that sort of thing as we figure out the genome.”

After a quick lesson on objectives and concepts, the class dove into a lab session focused on extracting their own DNA. “You can actually look at your own DNA and understand how your genes help you smell or taste,” said Micklos. From the experiment, the students were able to determine who would be able to taste a synthesized bitter substance, thus showing how DNA affects specific tastes directly.

“We know which are the olfactory sequences,” said Ward, “but we don’t know what they do.”Micklos has presented this seminar at schools around the country. He hopes the experiments will help students understand the subject, as well as help them realize how similar people really are. Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com


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