Creating memorable DNA experiences

I don’t remember what led to them, or what happened right after. But I remember each of these moments vividly, crisply, like I am frozen in them. These moments are all my firsts in biology: my first animal dissection (yuck), my first DNA extraction (thrill), my first PCR band on a gel (awe), my first in situ hybridization (wonder).

Yeah, call me a nerd. I’ve laughed, cried, yelled, or become ecstatic over many an experimental result.

Biology is the study of life and living organisms (duh). We use observation and experimentation to gain an understanding about the natural world. Distinct experimental tools are useful for different levels of organization: ecosystems, organisms, systems, cells, and molecules, all have their hands-on toolkit. Some people are initially drawn to biology captivated by ideas, but we only decide to become biologists (and stick with it) if we can also find fascination in the day-to-day experimental work.

I always wanted to be a molecular biologist. I didn’t know the word for it then, but I was always fascinated by the idea of neatly organized atoms working as our building blocks, engines, carriers of feeling, and vehicles of heredity. On my way to molecules, I enjoyed my share of experimental learning in other areas of biology: ecology field trips, zoology dissections, detailed observation in botany class, and the memorable physiology models. All of these created vivid imprints in my hippocampus (memories). Experimental molecular biology was not part of the curriculum. Just glossy textbook images of proteins, DNA, fatty acids. So ask me for a memorable DNA moment, and I draw a blank. Well, I do remember a red textbook cover bearing a double helix, with distant admiration…

The many teachers we meet through professional development workshops are real heroes. They bring to their kids molecular and synthetic biology, they purify, clone, and overexpress. Some have PhDs in molecular biology. Many had never done molecular biology before until they tried out their first loaner thermal cycler. And all of them are creating memorable DNA experiences for each of their students.

We want to help you create more memorable biology experiences. We’ll get into why we think this is important in an upcoming blog post (although this might be obvious). If you have ideas for DNA labs that are memorable, we’d love to hear from you and help you develop new ones too.

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