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Students gain real-life DNA experience

Students across the island are getting a hands-on experience with DNA science.

The Bermuda Principles Foundation has organised a range of events aimed at introducing young people to genetics over the next two weeks.

Carika Weldon, a Bermudian scientist and founder of the charity, said: “A lot of people know about DNA from the media.

“This is intended to expose them to how it works and how it is used, exposing them to the science.”

The events began on Saturday with teams from five schools testing their skills at the High School Science Competition.

Dr Weldon said that the students were taught about DNA testing in the morning before putting the knowledge to use in the afternoon.

Each team was then tasked with solving a crime, testing samples for DNA fingerprints and rare mutations before presenting their findings to a team of judges.

At the end of the competition, it was Saltus that took home the top prize, scoring 289 points out of a possible 300.

Bermuda High School came second with 264 points, and Berkeley Institute third with 237.

Events continue this week with Dr Weldon and a team of student scientists from De Montfort University in Leicester visiting the island's schools to conduct a series of workshops.

The team will also host afterschool science labs at Sandys Middle School, with 32 students testing their own DNA. Dr Weldon said: “On Monday, they will test a chemical that tastes sweet to most people, but for others tastes bitter.

“Then we will have them take their own DNA sample from their cheeks and test their own DNA to find out what genes they have.”

The week of activities conclude with a screening of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks at the Bermuda College.

Dr Weldon said Mrs Lacks died of cancer, but researchers discovered cells inside her tumour continued to live.

Her cells were mass produced and used in life-saving scientific research into polio, cancer and AIDS, among other illnesses.

However, neither Mrs Lacks nor her family gave consent for her cells to be used, with her family not learning about the cells until decades later.

Dr Weldon, who has used the cells in her own research, said: “I looked it up and I was shocked.”

She said it will be the subject of a debate in the Youth Parliament next year as the Bermuda Principles Conference brings researchers from around the world to Bermuda.

Dr Weldon said that the screening will also serve as a fundraiser, helping her to send Bermudian students to South Africa as part of a student exchange programme.

Students at the Bermuda Principles Foundation

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Published November 08, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated November 08, 2017 at 9:10 am)

Students gain real-life DNA experience

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