Sixth–eighth grade activity manuals

BotanoTech: A comparative plant genomics module

Students imagine themselves as employees of a (fictitious) San Diego biotech company, BotanoTech. The company develops anti-cancer medications and has identified a promising compound in broccoli (which actually is a source of at least one real anti-cancer drug called sinigrin currently in development). However, closely related plants may be a better source, and the students’ job for the week is to identify the closest relative of broccoli. They consider three candidates: broccoli rabe, cauliflower and peas.

First, they make phenotypic observations, leading them to propose a hypothesis as to which is the closest relative of broccoli. Then they undertake genomic investigation, examining relatedness at the DNA level (extracting DNA, using it for RAPD PCR, running the PCR products on a gel and examining banding patterns to determine relatedness). On the last day, they draw conclusions based on their evidence, culminating in construction of a phylogenetic tree for these four plant species.

This module is designed to expand and deepen student understanding of California seventh-grade life sciences standards while utilizing these concepts in a real-world investigation of an important problem. In addition, students get hands-on experience with technologies and tools involved in genomics and biotechnology.

Activity courtesy of HOPES 2012 recipients Dr. Laurie Smith and Dr. Shirley Demer, scientists, and Cheryl Wlodarski, Michael Goodbody and James Morris, teachers.