Food Safety Lab experience with free (donated) reagent kits

We founded Amplyus with the dream of increasing access to science education. The specific question in our minds has long been: How do we create memorable DNA experiences early in the lives of students?

Yesterday we took a small step in that direction. At a professional development workshop organized by MassBioEd (the Massachusetts Biotechnology Educational Foundation) we introduced close to 20 high school science teachers to a Food Safety Biotechnology Lab. Seven Massachusetts High Schools were represented in this hands-on training for a novel molecular lab experience that will now be brought to hundreds of students in their classrooms.

We developed this lab jointly with MassBioEd, who challenged us to envision “a classroom friendly biotechnology application that would not be over-represented in commercial catalogs”. We focused on food safety, specifically E.coli contamination in the food supply chain, because it is a problem tractable with the tools of microbiology and molecular biology. Enterohemorrhagic E.coli infections from tainted food result in thousands of hospitalizations annually in the US and outbreaks can be very difficult to contain, usually lasting months and often resulting in fatalities.

The miniPCR Food Safety protocol simulates the role of the USDA in containing these outbreaks: students examine simulated “tainted patties” samples for the presence of pathogenic E.coli and trace them back to “food processing plants”. In doing so, students practice DNA amplification, restriction digest, and electrophoretic analysis, and learn concepts linking genotype to phenotype, bacterial serotypes, genetic diversity, and single-nucleotide polymorphisms. Most importantly, they get their hands dirty experimenting with DNA and solving a relevant problem in public health.

The Food Safety Lab training was made possible through MassBioEd’s BioTeach professional development program, and through a grant from the Cummings Foundation. We obtained the reagents for the lab through a generous donation from New England Biolabs, Inc, Ipswich, MA. Not only that, but through NEB’s generosity we can now bring the reagent kits to schools who want to try this lab experience free of charge. Having free reagent kits makes teacher training and implementation really seamless. Teachers in yesterday’s training already took kits back to school to implement the lab with their students.

So this is one of those exciting win-win-win-win (I think that’s at least 4 “win’s”) opportunities where the ultimate winners are students. Yes, we’re very excited that this is happening.

We encourage you to contact us if you’d like to try out this lab protocol and free reagents kit.