Event teaches students about DNA through hands-on activities

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Event teaches students about DNA through hands-on activities

Garcia works in BJU’s cancer research lab.
Photo: Nathaniel Hendry

The Greenwood Genetic Center (GGC) has partnered with Bob Jones University’s department of biology to offer a DNA Education Day on Wednesday, April 20 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in room 205 of the science building. The event will feature a variety of hands-on educational modules for students to learn more about the assembly instruction manual for their bodies.

The DNA Education Day is open to BJU students of any major, as well as local high school students. The modules will include information about the discovery of DNA and current research developments, including potential uses of DNA and the technology scientists use to study it.

Rebecca Garcia, a biology faculty member in the Division of Natural Science, organized the event. Garcia, who has a doctorate in healthcare genetics from Clemson University, said she hopes to increase genetic literacy and interest in genetics and biotechnology.

“The goal is to be able to partner with more industry leaders in South Carolina that are directly targeting biotechnology or molecular diagnostics and give our students the opportunity to learn from those industry leaders,” Garcia said.

Garcia said she believes that people should know more about DNA due to its critical role in many different fields of study. Genetics plays a significant role in biotechnology, forensics, biochemistry and biomedical disciplines, among others. “A hands-on experience [will] help the students connect how what they’re learning in the classroom applies to the real world,” Garcia said.

GGC is a nonprofit institute in Greenwood, S.C. In addition to education offerings and research, the Center provides clinical genetic services and diagnostic laboratory testing. Researchers at the center also study disease-causing genes and mechanisms, treatment and prevention of intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder and birth defects, according to their website.

During the DNA education event, students can also learn about GGC’s summer camp program, internship opportunities and educator workshops. “I started my career at the Greenwood Genetics Center,” Garcia said. “I did an internship in the cytology lab … and that’s what really spurred my interest into molecular biology.”

The DNA Education Day coincidentally falls shortly after scientists finished mapping (establishing the locations of genes on the chromosomes) the complete human genome in March 2022. According to Scientific American, the Human Genome Project mapped over 90 percent of human DNA in a project completed in 2003. Since that time, scientists in the Telomere-to-Telomere consortium have used newly invented technology to map the remaining 10 percent of humankind’s three billion human DNA bases.

Garcia said the module on biotechniques is the most popular. In that module, participants extract DNA and begin a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) targeting a specific DNA sequence to replicate the sequence millions and millions of times. The resulting material forms a visible band, allowing scientists to see whether the target sequence, such as a disease or virus, is present.

For more information about the event, students can contact Rebecca Garcia at rgarcia@bju.edu. To find out more about the Greenwood Gentetic Center, students can visit  GGC.org.