Students Reveal Personal DNA Via SEAT Lab


Mr. Crisafi

Eighth grader Holland Poncy looks at her extracted DNA.

Recently, eighth-grade SEAT students extracted the genetic codes from their own bodies.

That’s right – they took part in a DNA lab as part of Mr. Matthew Oster’s Science, Engineering, Analysis, and Technology class.

The lab started off with the eighth-grade students extracting cells, called buccal cells, from the inside of their cheeks. To do this, they swished around some Gatorade in their mouths. This allowed the cheek cells to become suspended in the sodium within the sports drink.  After spitting some of the fluid into a test tube, the students had a Gatorade and buccal cell mixture.

They then added a cell lysis solution (basically a detergent) to the test tube to break down the buccal cell membranes, causing the DNA to be released into the solution. Finally, the students added a small amount of isopropyl alcohol. Because DNA is not soluble in alcohol, it formed a solid where the alcohol and salt water layers met. This created a free-floating DNA strand. Once the DNA strands were visible, the students used a pipette to extract the DNA strand and put them into small vials which were placed into decorative holders that they could then wear around their necks. Their DNA became a fashionable accessory thanks to the materials provided by Oster.   

Oster feels it’s important to teach students through hands-on experiences.

“It is important to show the students that DNA is in every single cell and show them the results, and the enormous size of their DNA relative to themselves,” said Oster. “This enriches the curriculum because now they can see their own DNA in real life instead of in a textbook.”

Mr. Crisafi
The cell lysis solution is a very crucial part of the lab.

Not only was the lab hands on, but it helped deepen the students’ understanding of cellular and genetic biology.

“I liked seeing how DNA is actually constructed, and it was easier to understand when we saw it in the form of a model,” said eighth-grader Jonathan Skatoff. “Every class I learn something, something I’ve never known before, which is cool.”

Many students, such as eighth-grader Henry Bennett, enjoyed getting to have a keepsake from the lab, and learned some things along the way.

“I liked the way that we created the DNA necklace and the procedures we had to go through to make it,” he said. “I learned that DNA appears while you have it in acid, or you can use detergent. [Mr. Oster] is a good teacher [because] he explains [science] well to us.”

Some students were shocked at how easy it was to extract their DNA.   
“I was surprised that you can see your DNA and perform this experiment with only household items,” said eighth grader Sarah Darby. “This was like chemistry and I can do it at my house.”

For Oster, he liked seeing his students marvel at the wonder of biology.

“My favorite part of this lab was when the students were able to see their DNA being suspended in solution,” he said. “I want students to learn that science is fun, cool, and applicable.”