Workshop delves into DNA study

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, January 27, 2009

WESSON – When Copiah-Lincoln Community College Anatomy andPhysiology instructor Anita Cliburn and Crystal Springs High SchoolBiology teacher Wendy Cawthorn went to the Cornell Institute forBiology Teachers in Ithaca, New York, they opened up a whole newworld not only for themselves, but also for their students.

As alumnae of the institute, the two teachers have brought homethe possibility of having learning materials shipped in to helptheir classes understand more about DNA technology. And one ofthose learning materials they can request from CIBT is Dr. MikeYerky, who conducted a DNA learning workshop at Co-Lin late lastweek.

“This is one way we keep in touch with our alumni,” Yerky said.”If they request it, we do a workshop on DNA profiling, and thenthey do a return trip to campus.”

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Yerky said teachers who have graduated from CIBT can call and hewill make a trip to their campus to help them teach and apply theinformation they have learned at the institute. This way, he said,teaching it to their own students is not such a daunting task.

“This helps them, especially on the things that take expertknowledge, so that they can eventually teach it on their own,” hesaid. “Because you learn all these things in the summer, thentrying to teach it again in the spring, you tend to forget thelittle things, the details.”

On Friday, teachers from the area got to participate in theworkshop. They were given samples from different living things -such as turkeys and deer and other common animals – and asked tohypothesize about the similarities of the DNA samples.

Cliburn said while Yerky was working with area high schoolstudents on Thursday, they did a human DNA profiling exercise.

“We set them up with one sample that matched the father and onethat didn’t,” said Cliburn.

He explained the testing simulated only one of the numerousrounds of tests that an actual DNA lab would conduct. But it isenough for students to understand the basics of what is involved inthe determination.

“These are designed for specific results,” Yerky said.

The students worked with simulated human DNA to determine if aman was actually the father of a baby. By looking at the geneticpattern of the mother and the child, they determined by the DNApattern of a suspect if he was, in fact, the father.

Yerky said the point of the seminar is to give teachers andstudents a bit of information about how the DNA process works.Cliburn said it’s also an important way to get teachers involved inCIBT.

In addition to Yerky’s personal trips to campuses that employthem, CIBT alumni can also request to borrow laboratory materialsfrom the institute. Thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment, whichwould be cost prohibitive to some schools, are then sent on loanfor teachers to use to teach their classes the process.

And the two days at Co-Lin were a great chance for participantsto get away from the norm in their home environments and enjoy theworld of DNA for a day.

“They loved having a whole day to devote to it,” Cliburn said.”This gave them a whole day of lab experience.”

And Yerky, a primatology expert who originally hails fromSwitzerland and now calls Ithaca home, also got a little bit of avacation as well.

“The people are friendly here, and compared to Ithaca where it’sminus 8 degrees and we have 5 feet of snow, this is great,” hesaid.