Wolbachia and Students: Discover the Scientist Within (Lead PI: Whitney Hagins)

Wolbachia and Students: Discover the Scientist within
Students Reached:70 tenth grade students
Lead Researcher:    Dr. Michele Bahr, Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratories
Lead Teacher:Ms. Whitney Hagins, Lexington High School  

This HOPES program not only provided opportunities for high school students to learn about the interactions between insects and Wolbachia, an intracellular bacteria that affects insect reproductive cycles and gender population dynamics, but also allowed students to teach their peers. During AP Biology lab times, students first learned from Ms. Whitney Hagins, of Lexington High School, how to perform the techniques of DNA extraction, isolation, PCR, and gel electrophoresis. Students were then tasked to use these tools in their own research and to train other students new to Wolbachia research. One student became a laboratory assistant in a Biology Research course at the Boston Leadership Institute, and also received funding from the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratories to continue his studies and to prepare a paper for publication.

Ms. Whitney Hagins, of Lexington High School, taught her students about the scientific method and investigative techniques using Wolbachia as an example. She included a three-week investigation for AP and non-AP biology students. She organized all student experiments and supervised the numerous students who were studying Wolbachia, either for science fair projects or for long-term research projects required by AP Biology.

Dr. Michele Bahr visited Lexington High School several times over the course of this program, and helped to the develop Wolbachia class material, explained laboratory protocols, and supplied primers necessary for PCR experiments. She served as a judge for the science fair, and was available for students whenever they needed additional assistance.

Ms. Hagins hosted 17 students who worked on nine Wolbachia long-term projects, with an additional 18 – 20 students participating in laboratory exercises on any given day. 13 students who were not required to do a research project choose to do one. Two student projects advanced to the regional science fair, and one advanced to the state science fair. Among students who were struggling in science courses, more of them were interested laboratory investigations and in scientific careers after the Wolbachia three-week series. In total, 160 students, most of whom were in tenth and eleventh grade, benefitted from this HOPES program.

ASBMB HOPES funding was used to purchase laboratory materials necessary for DNA extraction from collected insects and a digital water bath for bacterial transformations. Although Ms Hagins has retired, the Wolbachia research investigation is still a part of several classes at Lexington High School. Students also continue to use the Wolbachia system for their independent research projects.