Teach genetics and more with DNA gel electrophoresis in your classroom

Looking for an authentic lab activity to teach your students about genetics or human health? Gel electrophoresis is a basic but important biotech skill that can demonstrate a variety of biology concepts. This guide will show you how to bring DNA gel electrophoresis to your classroom!

A completed gel electrophoresis run visualized in a blueGel™

What is gel electrophoresis?

One of the most common methods for separating and visualizing biological molecules in the lab is called gel electrophoresis. The word “electrophoresis” means “carried by electricity”, and during gel electrophoresis, an electric field propels molecules through a gel. This guide will focus on running DNA molecules on a gel. Teaching concepts like genetics through DNA gel electrophoresis in the classroom is a perfect gateway to the broad fields of biotechnology and biomedical science.

For more information on gel electrophoresis, check out our What is Gel Electrophoresis? video.

Which gel electrophoresis system is for me?

Our happy family of gel electrophoresis systems: From left, Bandit™, blueGel™, and GELATO™

Traditional gel electrophoresis rigs can be costly and bulky, but miniPCR bio offers three types of affordable and easy-to-use gel electrophoresis systems. We break down each of these systems in-depth in this guide, but to sum it up briefly:

What else do we need to start running DNA gel electrophoresis?

How do I pour and run a gel?

Our “How to Pour a Gel” video will walk you and your students through three different methods of pouring a gelAll of our Learning Lab guides include detailed instructions on how to pour and run the gel. 

This introduction to gel electrophoresis and accompanying worksheet will help your students understand how to interpret their gel results. 

What can I teach with DNA gel electrophoresis?

Gel electrophoresis can be used to explore ideas within genetics, human health, and forensics, with the suggested labs in each category below.

Topic Learning Labs
Basic genetics
  • Dog Genetics Lab: cover Mendelian genetics and the relationship between genotype and phenotype using an engaging and adorable case study
  • Lemur Lab: explore conservation genetics using authentic field data from Madagascar and learn how DNA analysis can be used to identify animal species
Forensics
  • DNA Fingerprinting Lab: Shark Attack!: investigate a series of shark attacks to learn the fundamental principles of DNA fingerprinting, which is routinely used to identify individuals based on their genetic makeup
  • Wrongfully Convicted?: play the role of a forensic scientist and analyze new DNA evidence that may exonerate an innocent person
Human health and medicine
  • Sickle Cell Genetics Lab: test a fictional family for sickle cell disease to learn how changes in genes can lead to genetic diseases
  • Viral Diagnostics Lab: play the role of a healthcare provider and explore how molecular diagnostics can be used to diagnose patients with an emerging virus
CRISPR
  • Chopped!: use guide RNAs and the Cas9 enzyme to cut a DNA sample and then analyze the resulting DNA fragments using gel electrophoresis

Reminder: you may run any of our miniPCR bio Learning Labs in non-miniPCR bio equipment. You can also run non-miniPCR bio labs in miniPCR bio equipment. 

What about PCR?

The gel electrophoresis labs above introduce students to the types of questions that can be answered with biotechnology, as well as the science underlying the techniques. However, gel electrophoresis typically only represents the end of a DNA analysis workflow. PCR (polymerase chain reaction) is a technique that is often used to generate the DNA samples to be analyzed by gel electrophoresis. To learn more, check out this blog post on PCR or our Learning Labs that incorporate PCR alongside gel electrophoresis.

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