Mini PCR Biotechnology Curriculum

Grant Applicant
Kathy Tallant
Grant Co-applicants
"Kirby Reed, Jim Worthy, and Courtney Shalvis"
School Site
Truckee High School
Grant Category
Career Technical Education (CTE)
Mathematics & Science
Grant Date
Description (10 points)

DNA and genetic analysis is one of the most widely used techniques in biotechnology.  Areas of use include ancestry determination, forensic science, cancer research, health evaluation, genetic modification of food, epidemiology, genetic counseling, just to name a few.  Most of the time, a process called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is needed before the actual DNA analysis can be done.  This is because many available samples of DNA contain only a small amount of DNA.  PCR can take that small amount and make thousands of copies so that the sample becomes "amplified" or "multiplied".   This makes a large enough quantity for analysis.  Although PCR is widely used in industry, it has not been practical for high school science labs because of its cost and time requirements.   

The next step in DNA processing is called gel electrophoresis.  This step takes the "amplified" DNA, which has also been cut into segments, and lets it "run" through a gel that separates the different lengths into distinct bands.  The gels are stained with dyes and then viewed with a light table or with blue light which fluoresces the bands.  These band sequences look like rungs on a ladder and can be compared to known samples.  This is where a "match" or "non-match" can be determined.  This process is also time consuming and difficult to perform successfully.  

miniPCR is a company that has developed PCR cyclers and gel electrophoresis chambers that are much cheaper and easier for students to use compared to what is currently available.   the PCR cyclers use technology that allows students to track the progress and complete the process in one hour.  The gel electrophoresis chambers are self contained with the electrophoresis, staining, and blue light illumination system all in one.  This allows for a much greater success rate

I am requesting five mini8 thermal cyclers for PCR and 5 blueGel electrophoresis chambers.  Each of these machines can be used repeatedly, over and over again, and therefore could be shared by many different classes including Biology, Forensic Science, and Biomedical Sciences.

Benefits of Program (10 points)

This curriculum directly addresses the need for exposing students to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities and biotechnology careers.

The requested items would allow for a class of 32 students to complete the PCR process in one period and then run a gel electrophoresis on that sample in another class period.  This equipment is sufficient for each student to run their own sample.  The equipment would be used by biology classes, biomedical science pathway classes, the forensic science classes, and AP biology.  Once we have this equipment, many different labs could be conducted and taylored for each of these different subject areas.  Although students would be using the same equipment, they would get a difference experience for each lab in each class.  This potentially means that 300+ students per year could be using the equipment.  Essentially every student that attends Truckee High School would complete at least one PCR/gel electrophoresis lab and many students would complete multiple labs.

One of the most intriguing aspects of being able to use PCR is that students can analyze their own DNA samples.  These labs include a forensic science activity where the "guilty" person's DNA is actually from a student in the class, a lab where each student analyzes their own DNA to determine their genetic predisposition to be a "night owl" vs. a "morning person", and another where their DNA samples tell them if they have the PTC taster gene or not (this is a gene that causes some foods to taste bitter to those individuals carrying the gene)

In addition to the labs where students test their own DNA, there are many other different labs available from various companies that allow them to test pre-made samples for a variety of different purposes.  


Success of Program (10 points)

This curriculum allows students to experience actual techniques used in the biotechnology field.  It allows for them to explore different careers in Biotechnology and STEM.  The fact that they can analyze their own DNA should bring relevance.  The technology involved removes many sources of error so outcomes are more successful.  These factors both enhance the science curriculum and show success for the program.

Implementation (10 points)

This program could be implemented as soon as the equipment is ordered and becomes available.  Hopefully by the end of this year.  These techniques could easily be added to any of the current curriculums in any of the courses stated above without disruption.  The topic is already covered in these courses, this would just add the hands on component.

Can you share this grant with your grade level or subject team?

Yes, all of the following courses could use this equipment:  Biology, AP Biology, Forensic Science, Intro to Biomedical Science, and Human Body Systems.

No additional funding would be needed. The current Measure A (AA) could easily cover the consumables needed as they are relatively inexpensive. This equipment is reusable.
Amount Funded
Individual Budget Items(s)
$3000 - mini8 thermal cycler (bundle of 5)
$1500 - blueGel electrophoresis chamber (bundle of 5)