Above: Isabelle Cambio, left, picks up E. coli bacteria to insert into the tube while Lillian Zarrella observes.
By Alana Modi and Ariana Davoudi
In Mr. Nicholas Rath’s biotechnology class at East Greenwich High School, students recently got the chance to do an experiment using CRISPR in the laboratory – a remarkable opportunity – maybe the first in the state – for a high school.
CRISPR stands for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Palindromic Repeats.” The name may not roll easily off the tongue but it has been in the news a lot lately because it is a revolutionary gene editing tool. In basic terms, the process involves using the Cas9 enzyme to cut DNA at a specific location and then adding or deleting segments of DNA before joining the two segments back together again. Although there have been other gene editing technologies, none have been as easy, accurate and precise as CRISPR. The technology offers much promise and could potentially be a game changer in terms of biomedical research, the treatment of various diseases and disorders, and maybe even the cure of certain genetic disorders such as Huntington’s disease and cystic fibrosis.
During the lab, students learned to cut the DNA of E. coli bacteria and then repair it using HDR (homology-directed repair). The white or blue colors that were produced by the bacteria was an indicator that CRISPR was completed successfully.
The lab required students to use skills learned throughout the semester to complete the procedure successfully. Micropipettes were used to transfer minute quantities of various solutions; hot water baths and ice baths were used to “shock” the cells; and students used an incubator to grow the colonies of bacteria.
This was not the first successful lab done by the Honors Biotechnology Class. This class explored forensics as well, completing a DNA fingerprinting lab with gel electrophoresis to identify the right suspect of a crime. At one point the group was also able to do bacterial transformation where the DNA of a jellyfish (GFP or green fluorescent protein) was inserted into an E.coli bacteria which made its colonies glow green under UV black light.
Through this class, students have gotten the opportunity to explore the growing field of biotechnology, and the CRISPR lab allowed us to experience some of the latest developments in this scientific field. Mr. Rath continues to strive to incorporate the newest and emerging ideas in the science curriculum to educate students about the fast moving and exciting future of biotechnology. The original equipment – micropipettes, a thermal cycler machine and the electrophoresis equipment – was purchased with grant money from the EG Education Foundation. Since then, it has been part of the science department budget, with the CRISPR kit costing $400.
(See more photos below.)
Alana Modi and Ariana Davoudi are sophomores at East Greenwich High School.