Friday, January 25, 2008

Extracting DNA at the Tang

We had a lovely visit to the Molecules that Matter exhibit at Skidmore College's Tang Museum in Saratoga Springs this week. Ginger Ertz, the museum educator, had a DNA extraction kit from Carolina Biologic Supply she wanted to try with our homeschool group.

First we obtained cheek cells by swishing with a little Gatorade while gently biting the inside of our mouths. Then we spit the solution (all the kids actually abided by the instructions NOT to spit through the air!) into little medicine cups, mixed the Gatorade with some other chemicals in a test tube and took a tour of the exhibit while it sat awhile.

Exhibit curator Ray Giguere, an organic chemistry professor at Skidmore, had agreed to give our group a private tour. After the public tour we attended in the fall, I thought it would be really worthwhile, and it was. He even invited one of the parents to audit classes with her teens. He started at the DNA model, went over the plastics and nylon sections we had seen last time, and managed to squeeze in a little info on the Bucky balls. The models you see above are actually dog toys!

The DNA we extracted was replicated into long gooey strands that resembled jellyfish. We sucked them up into pipettes and put them in tiny vials to wear around our necks. I got a little Gatorade in mine.

You can get DNA kits from many suppliers, or make your own.
Rice University's crimesolving website for kids (see below) has a downloadable family activitity brochure with directions for extracting DNA from strawberries. Or you can use different plant material using these directions from the University of Utah. Try it!

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