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Life Science

Activity Ideas on Plasmids

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Laura O'Dell Laura O'Dell 30 Points

Hello,  I am currently developing a unit that connects life science and engineering. The topic I found that connects the two is how scientists use plasmids to engineer protein. It'd going to be a part of a unit on learning about protein as a biomolecule. What I am searching for is an activity/investigation to either model or demonstrate how plasmids are used, in very general terms, as tiny factories for expressing selected proteins.  I have found a few promising ideas, most require far to sophisticated equipment or are beyond the reach conceptually for middle school. I found a lab kit at Flinn and at Nasco that demonstrated gene expression in a species of Serratia. Although one of the kits states it's "harmless", I'm reluctant to use it. Any ideas for a safe, do-able gene expression activity/lab? LNO

Meg Griffith Meg Griffith 130 Points

Hi Laura, I'm one of the biologists at Flinn and I would be happy to help you find an activity you can use. We have a couple that look at the development of enzymes for use in cleaning clothes that do not involve growing microbes. The activity you referenced involves visual inspection of colonies and you don't actually open the petri dishes again after incubation and the culture is non-pathogenic. You do need to be able to incubate at different temperatures, so an incubator is needed. You can email me or give Flinn a call. Thanks, Meg Griffith Staff Biologist Flinn Scientific 1-800-452-1261

Laura O'Dell Laura O'Dell 30 Points

Thank you so much! I'll keep looking into those activities. The reason I ask is that I've been working at Caltech with their educational outreach program. I'm developing lessons for the middle school level based on the work of the lab I am assigned to. The most recent finding is growing protein hydrogels in vitro via plasmids in E. coli. Since the goal of the program is to bring the most current research into the classroom, I've developed a series of lessons on proteins. The progression is: 1. Protein as a macromolecule 2. Protein synthesis 3. Protein folding 4. Bacteria and Protein. For the last lesson in the unit, I'm trying to develop an investigation/lab based on how plasmids are used. The most intuitive route would be something about gene expression. Being middle school, designing curriculum for this level is a little tricky; it needs to be both well-grounded scientifically and accessible at a macroscopic level. The NGSS calls for more links between science and engineering; I think basic understanding of how plasmids work does the trick. Let me know if you have any additional suggestions!

Meg Griffith Meg Griffith 130 Points

I had another idea. You could use a type of bacteria that uses quorum sensing to turn on genes. The bio-luminescent bacteria Vibrio fisheri exhibits quorum sensing, so when the bacteria are at a low density they do not glow, but at a high density they glow. You need special agar to grow them -- Photobacterium Agar. Flinn has the culture, but not the agar. Connecticut Valley carries the agar in various forms.

Meg Griffith

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