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France frets over transgenic bacteria labs for teens

31 Jan

pGLO labThere’s a debate brewing in France over letting teens perform transgenic labs in the classroom.  This has become a common lab in introductory biology courses in college and in many high schools across the United States as well.  Scientific supply companies like Biorad sell kits for this type of lab that let you add a plasmid with genes for green fluorescent proteins (as well as a gene for antibiotic resistance to ampicillin) to Escherichia coli bacteria. 

When I saw the news article, my eyes nearly bugged out of my head, and I started laughing.  My freshmen (14-15 year olds) are performing this lab this week!  The debate in France centers around whether 15 and 16 year olds should be allowed to do this.

Certainly I can understand the concern about antibiotic resistant organisms escaping into the environment.  The reality is, though, that biotechnology is very interesting to the students, and it gives them a way to associate the abstract knowledge of DNA with something more tangible and practical.  What’s the big deal about learning the human genome if you don’t understand what we can then do with that knowledge?

P.S. If you do the pGLO lab or something similar with your students, show them why GFPs are cool by introducing them to some of their uses at the GFP site.

Reviewing Lab Safety

23 Aug

At the start of every year, I give my students a safety contract that both they and their parent/guardian must sign.  I also give a safety quiz a few days into the year; students must make a 100 on it to participate in labs (they can keep retaking it until they make a 100).  If you are in need of a contact and/or quiz, Flinn has some available here.

lab safety

Lab Safety

Before giving the quiz, I spend a day or two reviewing safety rules.  There are many ways to do this, but what I’ve done the past two years is make it into a station activity.

I break the students into groups (2-4 per group depending on total class size) and place each group at a different station to start off with.  The groups rotate through each station after a few minutes at each (they can’t move until I tell them to do so).  The stations are as follows:

  • Station 1 is a matching station.  Students have to match about 15 safety symbols with the appropriate meaning.
  • Station 2 has pictures of lab equipment.  Students have to correctly identify each piece (again, about 15 pictures).
  • Station 3 has pictures of students performing various lab activities.  Students must decide if each picture looks safe or unsafe and then explain why.  For example, one picture might be of a student heating a test tube that is pointed at his/her face. 
  • Station 4 is about first aid.  Students should always alert the teacher of any accident or injury, of course, but what is the appropriate action after that?  This station has pictures of burns, cuts, something in an eyeball, and so on.  Students must match the picture with the appropriate first aid response.
  • Station 5 has pictures of safety equipment such as the fire blanket, fire extinguisher, safety shower, and so on.  They have to name each item and then write down its location in the room (they need to be specific; writing “on the wall” does no good, because I don’t know which wall they are referring to, for example).

There are other stations you could add to this, of course.  One idea would be to have a station that requires the students to correctly read an MSDS sheet.  Another idea would be to set up a “fake” experiment with lots of safety errors and ask the students to identify as many things wrong as they can (for example, leave a backpack on the table with the experiment, another in the aisle, a dirty beaker on the table, a spill of a non-hazardous substance on the table, etc.).

What do you do to review science safety?

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