Lab Module - 2006 High School

There are many advantages to living near a world-class research university like Cornell. For high school students, one such advantage is having a world-class researcher visit their science classroom. Susan McCouch, Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics, has worked with local high schools since 2002 to create an exciting hands-on laboratory experience that also meets New York's educational standards for the Living Environment curriculum. Once again this year, students in Groton, Homer, and Cortland welcomed McCouch into their classrooms.

Students learn about molecular genetics technologies in the regular course content in Living Environment, but working with McCouch allowed them to experience firsthand what it means to extract DNA from living cells, and to examine how DNA confers unique characteristics on all biological organisms.

Students were given whole grains of rice and directions for growing rice in their gardens this summer. In Homer, McCouch and several of her graduate students and research assistants also shared their personal travel and research experiences through discussion and slides.

The highlight of all the classes was the hands-on lab experience involving grinding plant tissue on liquid nitrogen, extracting DNA, and doing gel electrophoresis activities that are commonly performed by biologists working in any aspect of genetics today.

The programs also included a discussion about the importance of rice in the human diet. Rice is the staple food for almost half of the world's population, and genetic research on rice can inform studies of many other cereal crops, including maize (corn), wheat, barley, rye, and oats.

This exercise was created through a grant from the National Science Foundation to McCouch and Jones. This grant funds the equipment and resources for outreach to Homer, Groton, and Cortland high schools each year.