Genes, Mutations and Diseases: Understanding the Origins of Genetic Disorders through Experiential Learning (Lead PI: Edwin Li)

Genes, Mutations and Diseases: Understanding the Origins of Genetic Disorders through Experiential Learning

Students Reached:  30 high school students, ninth and tenth grades
Lead Researcher: Dr. Edwin Li, St. Joseph University
Lead Teacher: Mr. Matthew Jurkiewicz, Bishop McDevitt High School

Students in Mr. Matthew Jurkiewicz’s freshmen Honors Biology course benefited from a six lesson unit focused on sickle cell anemia. Through this program, students learned about and performed experiments that demonstrate how diverse biochemical techniques can inform our understanding of genes, protein function, and disease. Organized by Dr. Edwin Li, Dr. Brian Forster and Caitlin Fritz from Saint Joseph’s University, students from Bishop McDevitt High School were led through experiments by three SJU undergraduate fellows. This team developed curricula in line with the Pennsylvania Academic Standards for Science, and Mr. Jurkiewicz supervised and served as a teaching mentor for the undergraduate fellows involved.

The six labs from this program were all focused on different aspects of sickle cell anemia. In the first week, an introduction to nucleotides was given, DNA was isolated, and molecular models of DNA were built. This was followed by experiments and discussions of transcription and translation, inheritance, manipulation of DNA, and protein structure and function. This program culminated in a field trip to various laboratories within the Biology department at SJU. Of the 30 students in the Freshmen Honors Biology class, 50% were from historically underrepresented backgrounds and 53% were from low income families. Assessments demonstrated that this program increased student understanding of these topics, and students felt very engaged by the laboratory techniques and by the undergraduate teaching fellows.

ASBMB HOPES funding was used last year to provide stipends to the team from SJU, pay for transportation from Bishop McDevitt High School and SJU, and laboratory supplies necessary for all in-class experiments. This year, sufficient funding was obtained to pay undergraduate fellows, and the lessons were held in January and February to better align with Mr. Jurkiewicz’s curriculum and to allow more undergraduate fellows to apply.

SJUImage_1  SJUImage_2

Left: Students looking at sickle cells
Right: Dr. Forster working with students during the SJU field trip