A couple of interesting experiments are going on around here! In biotechnology, juniors and seniors are engaging in a longitudinal study regarding an intriguing molecular event happening on human chromosome 16, while our neuroscientists are studying teenage brains and experimenting with motor functions and how stimulation of one person’s muscles can be used to control another’s.
This is the sixth year Tabor’s biotechnology class has collected DNA samples from student volunteers in an effort to discover the temporal and geographic origin of a 300 base pair Alu insertion in human chromosome 16. Alu elements probably arose from a gene that encodes the RNA of a particle which labels proteins for export from the cell. Alu is an example of a so-called "jumping gene" – a transposable DNA sequence that reproduces by copying itself and inserting into new chromosome locations. To do so requires a left-over component of a retrovirus, also found within our DNA. Together, over the millennia, they’ve accumulated about 1,000,000 copies within the human genome. Right now, the human species is in the process of gaining another such sequence within an area of chromosome 16 called PV92. The process by which the sequence copies itself and the location and timing of its first appearance within the human genome are both very interesting topics of study.
Crosby’s students are collecting samples of DNA from volunteers while recording their subjects’ region of ancestral origin, if known. They will then test the samples for the presence of the DNA insert on chromosome 16 (about half of human chromosome 16s have it to date). Once the data is in, the students map the frequencies with which the insert appears relative to maps of human migration patterns over the last 150,000 years. “The results continue to help us narrow our estimate of the origin of this “jumping gene”! says Crosby.
In Amelia Wright’s Advanced Topics Neuroscience class, students enjoyed the special treat of a visiting Neuroscientist, Dr. Sage Aronson. Aronson was on campus to share some of his expertise with them as well as deliver a public lecture on his research into what may be the early causes of depression. In class, Dr. Sage shared a human to human interface system from Backyard Brains, a company that makes electrophysiology equipment allowing high school students to study motor functions. The students had fun moving each other’s arm muscles through direct muscle stimulation. When one student moved her arm the electrodes on it transmitted the currents generated by her muscle to a receiver on another student’s arm, which caused contractions in his muscles! So, one person’s movements controlled the movements of another person through the electrodes. Pretty fascinating! Enjoy the movie here:
The class is also presenting their final projects for the term over the next couple of weeks. They have been studying topics related to the development and function of the adolescent mind.Wright said, “Many, if not all, of these topics are highly relevant to our work with students as their educators and mentors, and what better way to learn about the teenage brain than from teenage brains?” Here are a few samples of their presentation titles:
- FOMO; fear of missing out or finding obsession in media outputs
- Implicit bias: the cognitive underpinnings of stereotyping and racism within society
- Take a hit: peer pressure and addiction in adolescents
- You’re not special: why the teenage brain is so sensitive to evaluation
- Dying to drink: teen binge drinking
Making learning real and relevant is critical to keeping students engaged and interested. From humanities to science and math, Tabor teachers do their best to engage students in projects and research that help them create more critical questions, and perhaps even some answers, as they explore the real issues in their lives and in our world.