Middle School Program

Our program of genetics laboratory field trips includes a variety of hands-on experiments to introduce elementary and middle school students to molecular biology. Instructors encourage an interactive approach linking the process of discovery to learning and offer cutting-edge experiences inspired by techniques and tools used by research scientists.

Suggested for Grades 5 & 6:

Baggie Cell Model

Students will explore the structure and function of cells - the building blocks of life. Using a simple factory analogy, they will discover how the major parts of a cell work together to make a product. Each student will use kit materials to build a 3-D cell model to help visualize the abstract world of the microscopic cell. 

Students will:

  • discover that in nature “form fits function”;
  • understand that there is order to a living thing, and that cells give rise to tissues, tissues to organs, and organs to organ systems;
  • identify organelles and other cellular structures by their scientific names;
  • learn how organelles and other structures work together in a cell; and
  • build a macroscopic model of an animal cell.

Information:

  • plastic bag
  • string plastic
  • plastic ball (2 parts)
  • gelatin
  • paper plate
  • assorted dried beans
  • spaghetti pieces
  • plastic cup
Not provided:
  • cup of water

Diversity of Life

Examine the five kingdoms of life through a microscope! Slides of animal, plant, fungi, protist, and bacteria cells are magnified up to 400x in a compound microscope as part of an exploration of biodiversity and classification.

Students will:

  • see cells from all five kingdoms viewed through a compound microscope;
  • record microscope observations;
  • compare and contrast cell types; and
  • learn how to prepare a wet mount slide and use a compound microscope.

Information:

  • Lab time: 1 hour
  • Grades 5 & 6
  • Available: Virtual Demo (no kit required)

DNA Models

Understanding the structure of DNA helps to explain its function.  In this lab, students are introduced to the composition of DNA building blocks called nucleotides. They will discover how the subunits of the nucleotides - nitrogenous bases, phosphate groups and deoxyribose sugars - fit together to form the double helix. The lab concludes with the production of 3-D models that show the famous structure.

Students will:

  • discuss the role of DNA in living things; 
  • explore the structure and function of the DNA molecule; 
  • learn about the base pairs of DNA and the importance of sequence; and
  • produce a model of DNA.

Information:

(additional $5 charge per student kit)

  • black and white striped foam strips
  • wooden dowels painted orange, green, yellow, and blue
  • upholstery tacks
  • clear vinyl tubing pieces
  • popsicle sticks
  • tag wire
Not provided:
  • tape (masking tape preferred, but any tape will work)
  • markers

Mendelian Inheritance

Gregor Mendel is known as the “Father of Genetics.” His proposed principles of heredity—based on his own observations of heredity in garden plants—formed the basis of our understanding of classical genetics.  In this lab, kernel color in corn is used to illustrate some of Mendel’s laws of inheritance.

Students will:

  • collect data from corn crosses to show patterns of heredity;
  • use Punnett squares to predict possible outcomes from genetic crosses; and
  • learn how Mendel’s seminal principles can be applied today.

Information:

  • Lab time: 1 hour
  • Grades 5 & 6
  • Available: Virtual Demo (no kit required)

Observing Mutant Organisms

Mutations are changes in DNA that can sometimes lead to variation in traits. Through a comparison of wild-type and mutant strains of Drosophila fruit flies—a common model organism in genetic research—students will observe how mutations in DNA can affect the traits of a living thing and draw conclusions about the role that mutations play in natural selection, evolution, and genetic disease.

Students will:

  • observe fruit fly traits using a pocket magnifier;
  • describe and record traits of different fruit flies;
  • draw conclusions about the fitness of flies with different trait variations; and
  • appreciate the role of mutations in species survival and evolution.

Information:

(additional $5 charge per student kit)

  • student microscope or magnifier
  • petri dish with 3 wild type fruit flies
  • petri dish with 3 mutant fruit flies

Suggested for Grades 5-8:

Our Human Inheritance, featuring Ötzi the Iceman

In the fall of 1991, two hikers in the Ötztal Alps came upon the mummified remains of a 5,300-year-old man. Now preserved in a climate-controlled freezer at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, Ötzi's body and accompanying artifacts provide a window into life in Europe during the Copper Age. The DNALC worked with the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology to make a 3D replica of the Ötzi the Iceman mummy that is now installed in the exhibit at the DNALC in Cold Spring Harbor.

Students will:

  • take a virtual tour of the exhibit;
  • learn about Ötzi’s microbiome, medical and genetic history, and untimely death;
  • see the world’s first reconstruction of a complete Neanderthal skeleton; and
  • explore what we know about the history of our species using fossil and DNA evidence.

Information:

  • Lab time: 1 hour
  • Grades 5 and above
  • Available: Virtual Demo (no kit required)

DNA Extraction from Wheat Germ

DNA is a molecule inside the cells of all living things, including things we eat! In this lab students will follow a simple procedure to extract DNA from wheat germ.  Upon completion, they will have a visible DNA sample that can be collected and preserved.

Students will:

  • review structure of plant cells;
  • follow a simple procedure to extract DNA from plant cells;
  • explain how DNA can be visible without a microscope; and
  • collect DNA and make a keepsake necklace.

Information:

  • 2 g wheat germ
  • 6 ml soap
  • 6 ml ethanol
  • empty 1.5 ml tube
  • droppers
  • plastic loop
  • string
Not provided:
  • cup of water

Pollen Tells a Story

Discovered in the Italian Alps in 1991, the 5,300-year-old mummy nicknamed Ötzi the Iceman has become an important source of information about the Neolithic. Still, there are many unanswered questions about his life and death. Discover how pollen in Ötzi’s digestive system was used as a forensic tool to track where he may have been in the final 36 hours before his untimely demise.

Students will:

  • learn how to use a compound microscope;
  • explore how pollen can be used to track an individual’s location;
  • view and identify pollen types found in Ötzi’s body; and
  • use pollen observations to estimate Ötzi’s movement in the days before he died.

Information:

  • Lab time: 1 hour
  • Grades 5, 6, 7, & 8
  • Available: Virtual Demo (no kit required)

The Mystery of Anastasia (computer lab)

During the Russian Revolution of 1917 the last royal family of Russia—the Romanovs—went missing. It was determined that that the family was likely murdered, yet in 1920 a mysterious woman resurfaced in Germany and claimed to be the missing Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov.  Learn about this very interesting time in Russian history and use computers to see how modern science was used to solve the mystery of Anastasia!

Students will:

  • learn the story of the Romanovs and their disappearance in 1917;
  • collect and interpret forensic evidence;
  • perform DNA comparisons to identify important people; and
  • use evidence to support a claim and solve the mystery.

Information:

  • Lab time: 1 hour
  • Grades 5, 6, 7, & 8
  • Available: Virtual Demo (no kit required), Virtual Live (requires Adobe Flash plug-in on participant computers; not available after 12/31/20)

New! Dust Away Crime: The Science Behind Fingerprints

Like DNA, fingerprints are unique. In the early 1900’s, scientists and criminologists began to realize that fingerprints could be used in criminal investigation, linking evidence to suspects. In this lab, students will create and analyze their own fingerprints, discover how to make latent (invisible) prints appear, and learn to lift prints from surfaces.

Students will:

  • learn about the history of fingerprint analysis in forensics;
  • analyze their own fingerprint minutiae;
  • lift and analyze fingerprints from surfaces; and
  • apply their fingerprint analysis skills to solve a “mystery”.

Information:

  • fingerprinting booklet
  • disposable nitrile gloves
  • fingerprint identification card
  • dusting wand
  • magnet powder
  • magnifying card, wallet size
  • white latex balloons
  • fingerprint ink pad
Not provided:
  • pen or pencil
  • permanent marker
  • colored markers (any)
  • clear tape
  • scissors
  • flat, light-colored, nonporous surface (avoid wood, unglazed pottery, or similar material)
  • items that can be dusted for prints (i.e. glass, plastic, glazed ceramic, etc.)

Suggested for Grades 6, 7, & 8:

Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

This experiment illustrates the direct link between an organism's genetic complement (genotype) and its observable characteristics (phenotype). A gene for antibiotic resistance is introduced into the bacterium E. coli. Following overnight incubation, transformed bacteria are compared to non-transformed bacteria for their ability to grow in the presence of the antibiotic ampicillin.

Students will:

  • learn how to culture bacteria in Petri dishes;
  • explore how genetically engineered bacterial cells can be used to make  new proteins;
  • observe the effect of antibiotics on bacteria; and
  • discuss how antibiotics work and how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.

Information:

  • Lab time: 1 hour
  • Grades 6 & 7
  • Available: Virtual Demo (no kit required)

Bacteria and Antibiotics

In this lab, two different strains of bacteria are treated with two different antibiotics. After a day of growth, the presence or absence of growth inhibition zones indicates the effect of each antibiotic and helps to determine if any of the bacterial strains are antibiotic resistant.

Students will:

  • learn to culture bacteria in Petri dishes and perform antibiotic sensitivity tests;
  • observe the effect of antibiotics on different bacterial strains; and
  • discuss how antibiotics work and how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.

Information:

  • Lab time: 1 hour
  • Grades 6 & 7
  • Available: Virtual Demo (no kit required)

Better Milk for Cats

In this laboratory students will learn the interesting combination of genetics and culture that led to lactase persistence - the ability to digest lactose in milk - in humans. Next, they will build a “bioreactor” where the enzyme lactase can be used to remove lactose from milk, as is done in industry to produce some lactose free products.

Students will:

  • create enzyme "beads" using sodium alginate and use them in a "bioreactor";
  • observe the enzyme substrate reaction of lactase and lactose;
  • understand the genetics behind lactase production and lactose intolerance; and
  • test for product of an enzyme-catalyzed reaction to demonstrate enzyme efficiency.

Information:

  • 5 ml sodium alginate
  • 50 ml calcium chloride
  • droppers
  • lactase pill
  • coffee filter
  • plastic cups
  • glucose testing strips
Not provided:
  • ½ cup of milk

Enzymatic Food Production

Using the enzymes emporase and pectinase, students will make cheese and juice, and observe how enzymes can be used in the food production industry. The concepts of enzymes as catalysts and enzyme-substrate specificity are demonstrated in these two simple activities.

Students will:

  • use enzymes to make two common foods;
  • observe enzymes acting as catalysts of chemical reactions;
  • discuss the relationship between structure and function of enzymes and their substrates; and
  • discover factors that can affect enzyme function.

Information:

  • 2 ml emporase enzyme
  • 2 ml pectinase enzyme
  • plastic droppers
  • cheese cloth
  • coffee filters
  • plastic cups
  • wooden craft sticks
  • plastic dishes
  • empty 50-ml tube (for measurements)
  • applesauce
Not provided:
  • permanent marker
  • 2 cups milk
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • large cup of warm water
  • kitchen thermometer (suggested, but not required)

Glowing Genes*

This experiment illustrates the direct link between an organism's genetic complement (genotype) and its observable characteristics (phenotype). Two genes, for antibiotic resistance and luminescence, are introduced into the bacterium E. coli. Following overnight incubation, transformed bacteria are compared to non-transformed bacteria for their ability to grow in the presence of ampicillin and glow when exposed to ultraviolet light.

*The kit for this lab (used in Live Demonstration and Live Hands-on Labs) is only available to teachers who are able to pick up the kit at the Dolan DNALC in Cold Spring Harbor 1-2 days prior to instruction.

Students will:

  • observe the effect of antibiotics on bacteria;
  • learn how plasmids are used to introduce new genes into bacterial cells;
  • understand how bacteria can be used to make human proteins such as insulin; and
  • discuss how GFP can be used as a molecular reporter in research.

Information:

  • competent mm294 cells in CaCl2
  • 10 µL pGFP plasmid
  • plastic droppers
  • Petri dish with LB/Amp agar
  • sterile glass beads
Not provided:
  • Cup of hot water
  • Cup of ice
  • Tape
  • Permanent marker
  • Kitchen thermometer (not required)
  • Black light (not required)

RNA Transcription

Genes are like recipes that tell cells how to make proteins, and proteins give us traits! In this lab students will explore the processes of RNA transcription and translation, two important steps used by cells in the protein production pathway. They will then build a 2-D model that shows both steps.

Students will:

  • discover the differences between DNA and RNA;
  • visualize how coded information in RNA is translated by ribosomes to make proteins;
  • make connections between specific proteins and traits; and
  • build a model that shows both RNA transcription and translation.

Information:

  • 9 wooden popsicle sticks
  • 2 tag wires
Not provided:
  • permanent marker
  • colored markers, 5 different colors
  • tape
  • scissors 

Bubbling Liver

By placing small pieces of liver into a cup of hydrogen peroxide, chemical activity of the enzyme catalase is visible as it splits hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. Draw conclusions about enzymes and the chemical reactions that they catalyze upon observation and implementation of variables.

Students will:

  • observe the chemical reaction of catalase and hydrogen peroxide;
  • explore factors that affect the function of enzymes; and
  • demonstrate the structure and function relationship between enzyme and substrate.

Information:

  • Lab time: 1 hour
  • Grades 6 & 7
  • Available: Virtual Demo (no kit required)

Bubbling Potatoes

By placing small pieces of potato into a cup of hydrogen peroxide, students will see the enzyme catalase chemically change hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. Upon observation and implementation of variables, several conclusions can be drawn about enzymes and the chemical reactions that they catalyze. 

OPTIONAL for FOLLOW UP: small samples of various fruits and vegetables such as banana, onion, kale, spinach, radish, carrot, kiwi, cucumber, carrot

Students will:

  • observe the chemical reaction of catalase and hydrogen peroxide;
  • explore factors that affect the function of enzymes;
  • demonstrate the structure and function relationship between enzyme and substrate; and
  • test household foods for the presence of catalase (optional).

Information:

  • yeast packet
  • plastic cups
  • plastic dishes
  • vinegar
  • hydrogen peroxide
Not provided:
  • permanent marker
  • ½ potato (per student), cut into small pieces

OPTIONAL for FOLLOW UP: small samples of various fruits and vegetables such as banana, onion, kale, spinach, radish, carrot, kiwi, cucumber, carrot

Viral Infection

Bacteriophage are viruses that use bacteria as a host to reproduce. In this lab, a harmless strain of bacteria is infected with the T4 bacteriophage. After a day of growth in a Petri dish, small plaques indicate where infected bacterial cells have died.

Students will:

  • learn how bacteriophage use host bacterial cells to reproduce;
  • infect bacterial cells with a bacteriophage virus;
  • culture bacteria in Petri dishes; and
  • observe infection and spread of virus among cultured cells.

Information:

  • Lab time: 1 hour
  • Grades 6 & 7
  • Available: Virtual Demo (no kit required)

Suggested for Grade 8+:

DNA Fingerprint

Human DNA is more alike than different, so how do we find the differences? Restriction enzymes are proteins that recognize specific DNA sequences and can be used to determine whether a particular DNA sequence is present. In this lab, DNA from “evidence” and “suspects” will be compared using restriction enzyme digest and agarose gel electrophoresis. DNA analysis will then be combined with crime scene data to draw conclusions about each suspect.

Students will:

  • learn about restriction enzymes;
  • observe how agarose gel electrophoresis is used to produce a DNA fingerprint;
  • compare DNA fingerprints from “evidence” and “suspects”; and
  • determine who left their DNA at a “crime scene”.

Information:

  • Lab time: 1 or 2 hours
  • Grades 8 & 9
  • Available: Virtual Demo (no kit required)

Gene Therapy

Gene therapy is an experimental technique that can be used to treat or prevent genetic disease. In this lab, a mutant strain of E.coli is genetically engineered with a missing gene so it can survive in a Petri dish with a selective food source. After overnight growth, a color change indicates the bacteria have been transformed and the “therapy” was a success.

Students will:

  • Perform a bacterial transformation;
  • Culture bacteria in Petri dishes;
  • Learn about enzyme mediated digestion of lactose; and
  • Discuss medical applications of genetic engineering.

Information:

  • Lab time: 1 or 2 hours
  • Grades 8
  • Available: Virtual Demo (no kit required)

Protein Purification

In this lab, the protein green fluorescent protein (GFP) is isolated from genetically engineered bacterial cells. Using a technique called hydrophobic interaction chromatography (HIC), GFP is separated from cellular proteins through binding with a hydrophobic resin. Upon completion of the lab, tubes of purified GFP fluoresce bright green when exposed to UV light.

Students will:

  • learn how GFP is used as a molecular reporter in research;
  • lyse engineered bacterial cells to release GFP and cellular proteins;
  • use chromatography to separate GFP from other cellular proteins; and
  • discuss how bacterial cells can be used to produce human proteins.

Information:

  • Lab time: 1 or 2 hours
  • Grades 8
  • Available: Virtual Demo (no kit required)