Students study strawberries, pipettes at Hutch High

December 2, 2010

By Laura Geggel

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The strawberry, with eight sets of each chromosome, is an ideal fruit for DNA extraction. Humans only have two sets of each chromosome, one from their mother and the other from their father.

Hundreds of strawberries underwent DNA extraction Nov. 4, as 230 sophomores from across the state visited the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle for a half-day lab paid for by the Michael Miyauchi Foundation. The lab is competitive — 60 schools applied and 27 were accepted, including Hazen High School.

The students toured the Hutch campus, doing labs and listening to lectures — streaking bacteria on agar plates, learning about sickle cell anemia and hearing about a researcher’s quest to identify the role of a protein carried by white blood cells.

At the end of the strawberry experiment, Hazen sophomore Ian Clarke was looking at a clear, goopy substance that looked like snot. He said he couldn’t be more excited to see DNA with his bare eyes.

“I was thinking it would be just like the water,” Clarke said. “I didn’t think it would be somewhat of a foamy soluble.”

Hazen High School sophomores Tina Clarke and Ian Clarke isolate DNA from strawberries during Hutch High, a half-day lab for students at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Students came to the Hutch for a variety of reasons: for their love of science, to see how researchers work or even to learn more about the institution that pioneered the bone marrow transplant.

“This is something I’ve been looking forward to a lot,” Clarke said.

The 10 students from Hazen began their day with a free breakfast at the Double Helix Café. The strawberries came next, though they were not for eating.

“I really like it. I actually have never done a dissection of cells,” Clarke said.

Students got a lesson in hand washing next. They rubbed their hands with GlitterBug lotion, which glows under a black light. After soap and water, students inspected their hands under a black light for traces of glitter.

Michael Bender, a University of Washington associate professor who works in hematology and oncology at the Hutch, engaged students in a discussion about sickle cell anemia, focusing on prevention. If sickle cell patients stay hydrated, keep warm and avoid stress, they can help prevent episodes when their sickle cells clump together and stop blood flow.

“Part of this is to demystify science,” said Bender, who said he was impressed with students’ questions about the disease.

“It’s just imagination and asking,” he said.

Students practiced using micropipettes by transferring liquids into a gel, an everyday activity in labs across the country.

Hazen Career Counselor Denise Anderson, who accompanied the students to the Hutch, said she was glad they had the opportunity to see where scientific careers could take them.

“It’s important to take them off of the high school campus and put them into a real career environment, especially a research facility, so they could see all of the different careers that are even available to them,” she said.

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