Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, December 20, 2010

Outreach Event

High School Students Explore the Diversity of the Ocean in Outreach Event

Around 30 Ringgold High School students had the opportunity to explore the diversity of life in the ocean, with Assistant Professor Veronica Hinman and members of the Hinman Laboratory. The National Science Foundation-sponsored outreach event taught the students how marine species, particularly invertebrate animals, are identified and grouped, how they develop, and how genetic variation can be studied. These are all essential components of understanding the diversity of life in the ocean and how it evolved.

The event began with the high school students observing adults and developing embryos of starfish and sea urchins, model systems for development and cell morphogenesis. Next, the students utilized microscopes to observe a diverse array of marine larvae and embryos in seawater Petri dishes, and to try their skills at photographing the larvae. Based upon their observations, the students selected larvae for DNA extraction and attempted to identify the species. The students were taught how to extract DNA and use a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify two regions on the 18s ribosomal gene. The 18s gene is very similar in different species; however, over time it slowly acquires mutations.

Back at school, the students were able to look at their sequences and use a variety of bioinformatics databases to explore more about the organisms that they had observed.