Molecular Ecology of the Atlantic Horseshoe Crab (L. polyphemus) as a Mechanism to Enhance Inquiry-Based STEM Education at Sayville Middle and High-Schools and Beyond (Lead PI: John Tanacredi)

Molecular Ecology of the Atlantic Horseshoe Crab (L. polyphemus) as a Mechanism to Enhance Inquiry-Based STEM Education at Sayville Middle and High-Schools and Beyond
Students Reached:20 middle school and 54 high school students
Lead Researcher:    Dr. John T. Tanacredi, Dowling College (now at Molloy College)
Lead Teacher:Ms. Maria Brown, Sayville High School  

Dr. John T. Tanacredi, of Dowling College, and Ms. Maria Brown, of Sayville High School, worked together to design a project for high school students to determine how horseshoe crab populations from the South Shore, Chesapeake, and Delaware estuaries vary, both between and within these populations. Students isolated mitochondrial DNA from horseshoe crab samples from these three water sources, and were led through the extraction of DNA, performed PCR amplifications of horseshoe crab mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I, isolated amplified DNA, and sent samples to Brookhaven National Laboratory for sequencing. Noyce Scholars, who are minority undergraduate students seeking New York State Teacher certification in math or science, assisted in the training of students and in the execution of experiments.

This award supported various activities spanning seven months of the 2011 – 2012 academic year. In the summer of 2011, a five-day workshop was held for 11 high school and middle school teachers, 6 Dowling Noyce Scholars, and 14 high school students. The Center for Estuarine, Environmental and Coastal Oceans Monitoring (CEECOM, now CERCOM), lab manager, Mr. Sixto Portilla, guided attendees through a tour of the facility, provided background information on horseshoe crabs, led training in the molecular biology techniques required for the proposed project, and introduced the bioinformatic tools necessary for haplotype analysis of the horseshoe crab data.

High school students split into three teams, and guided by a Noyce scholar determined their team objectives, hypotheses, and an outline for the project they executed over the following academic year. Students presented their plan to their teachers and peers in December, and performed their experiments from February to May of 2012.

Through this program, student researchers also acted as teachers. In January 2012, student researchers spent three days with the AP Biology class and, working with their teacher, lead the 38 AP Biology students through a workshop where they taught students the above molecular biology techniques and prepared more horseshoe crab samples for sequencing. Student researchers also served as teaching and laboratory assistants at a teacher professional development meeting, which included a tour of Brookhaven National Laboratory, held in July 2012.

All students, less than 5% of whom were from underrepresented groups or from low income families, indicated on a survey that they enjoyed participating in this program and would recommend it to others. Many also indicated they would like to expand the program to study other organisms. Two of the high school students were shot by National Geographic Wild and appear in the documentary "Alien Crab" which was shot on location at the CERCOM in West Sayville, New York. In June 2015, the work of a high school student, Dr. Tanacredi, and some of Dr. Tanacredi’s undergraduate students will be presented at the Third International Workshop on the Science and Conservation of Horseshoe Crabs in Sasebo, Japan. Dr. Tanacredi is now at Molloy College and director of CERCOM.

ASBMB HOPES funding was used to purchase all reagents necessary for DNA extraction, PCR, and gel electrophoresis, including blood and tissue and quick PCR purification kits to reduce student error. The organizers extended this program into the summer so that there can be greater cooperation between teachers, Noyce Scholars, and middle and high school students. They have since received additional funding from the Sierra Club, and will use this to expand the program to 13 additional beaches and to analyze the grain size, color, and metal content of their sand.