On July 29th, 2019, STEM Pathways, in collaboration with Epiic Solutions, hosted an interactive workshop for high school students on biotechnology and its societal impacts.
The half-day workshop began with an intensive ethics discussion on germline editing. Using biological reagents, in a system called CRISPR-Cas9, it is possible to edit genomes in vitro to change the genotype of a fetus. Such technology has the possibility to save lives, eradicating life-threatening genetic diseases such as Huntington’s Disease and Tay Sachs. However, it could also promote the popularity of “designer babies” in which parents are able to change aesthetic features and physical abilities. The students, in small groups led a by an LCP undergraduate researcher, delved deep into these issues, exploring the benefits and the risks of expanding studies to human subjects as well as the possibility of lessening the restrictions of legality regarding commercial use. Students came up with thoughtful responses, presenting ideas such as legalizing genetic testing for scientific purposes or allowing medical professionals to prescribe editing as a genetic treatment for prospective parents.
The ethics discussion was followed by an interactive activity introducing the build and design processes of genetic circuits. Students engaged in active learning techniques while discovering the concepts behind genetic circuitry, the decisions required in the choosing of promoters and coding sequences, and the testing of how to make the cell perform in various ways.
The next activity introduced students to the field of microfluidics. In Boston University’s CIDAR, technicians design microfluidic chips with CAD software, manufacture using miniature CNC mills, and test biological protocols on the micro scale. The students mimicked this design process, developing their own microfluidic chips using models to replicate the protocols of E. Coli transformation and fluorescence measurement.
The students then had the opportunity to present, to a panel of undergraduate students, questions about research, STEM, and academic studies at Boston University.
The program concluded with a lab tour at the Rajen Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences and Engineering (CILSE). Research technicians displayed their hardware and wet lab workspaces. Students were able to see a live demonstration of liquid handling robots, CNC mills, and to see a finished microfluidic device.