Green Tick : DNA Fingerprinting and Visualising Science workshops from Timstar

DNA Fingerprinting from shutterstock.com

Reviewer Highlights

The Visualising Science workshop aims to improve technicians’ technical knowledge and expertise, and to support schools that are considering buying visualisers”

“Using the DNA Fingerprinting using PCR and Gel Electrophoresis workshop with students combines expert teaching and allows schools to gauge the impact of the practical work on student learning and motivation”

ASE Evaluation

Timstar workshops (www.timstar.co.uk):

  • DNA Fingerprinting using PCR and Gel Electrophoresis
  • Visualising Science 

Timstar is one of the leading school science suppliers in the UK. They have offered free technician workshop sessions at national and regional conferences for several years, but have now expanded this offer to provide technician workshops for school clusters and student DNA workshops in school. The workshops are written and presented by sales representatives who have relevant experience and science backgrounds, including industrial work experience. The sessions are well documented to support consistency of presentation and so participants have useful information following the workshops.

The two workshops evaluated were DNA Fingerprinting using PCR and Gel Electrophoresis and Visualising Science. Each workshop lasts for between one and one and a half hours and is supported by a PowerPoint presentation and participants’ notes. Following the success of these two workshops, Timstar is planning on developing a further two workshops in 2018.The Visualising Science workshop aims to improve technicians’ technical knowledge and expertise, and to support schools that are considering buying visualisers. Participants experience several engaging mini-experiments that are used to showcase the capabilities of the visualiser. The experiments may be viewed without a visualiser, although the visualiser greatly enhances the experiences for students during demonstrations. The mini-experiments include cell osmosis, Brownian motion, electrolysis, displacement reactions and investigating Daphnia heartrate. Most of the experiments will be familiar to technicians, with the possible exception of the electrolysis of tin(II) chloride solution; the growth of tin crystals is both rapid and spectacular!

The session begins by considering reasons for using a visualiser and features to look for when choosing one. Through the experiments, the session considers the benefits of visualisers and effective uses for them. The relevant and useful information gained from the workshop supports technicians in making informed choices when buying a visualiser, and better equips them to advise teaching staff about choices. Throughout the practical part of the session, participants have a good opportunity to use several visualisers available from Timstar, exploring their features practically and through asking questions. The electrolysis and displacement reactions show the capability of a visualiser as a low powered microscope and camera for still and video photography. The osmosis, Brownian motion, Daphnia heart rate and cell osmosis experiments show how the visualiser may be used in conjunction with a microscope. The workshop provides participants with an excellent opportunity to work together and discuss visualisers, and experiments that may be enhanced by using them. Having an hour-long workshop offers participants sufficient time for their exploration, discussion and questions.

In the DNA Fingerprinting using PCR and Gel Electrophoresis workshop, participants are led through the DNA fingerprinting process in stages. Although originally written for technicians to experience working with DNA, it has been successfully translated into a student workshop in school. In the first stage, participants prepare an agarose gel and have the theory, practice and applications of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) explained whilst the gel sets. In the next stage, participants prepare a PCR sample to run in the thermal cycler, during which the thermal cycling process is explained. As the samples take over an hour to run, pre-prepared DNA samples are then used for the final practical stage in which the sample constituents are separated by gel electrophoresis. Because separation takes over an hour, participants solve a ‘murder mystery’ using stained results from an earlier separation. The workshop concludes with case studies, which describe how DNA fingerprinting was used to convict two criminals in landmark cases: Colin Pitchfork, the first person to be convicted on the basis of DNA evidence, and Craig Harman, who was identified as a key suspect in a manslaughter case from a relative’s DNA held on the national database. A third case study describes how a businessman, Simon Mullane, faked paternity tests to defraud clients.

The value of the workshop for technicians is that they experience the stages required in the DNA fingerprinting process. Should the school acquire a kit, the workshop acquaints them with the processes and pitfalls likely to be encountered during use with students. It also equips them with knowledge and practical expertise to support practical lessons with students and explain the stages in the process and their significance. The workshop is of enormous value for students, as it makes a highly complex process much more accessible and understandable. It is also likely to inspire them to consider a career in biotechnology or forensic science. 

Both workshops offer schools an excellent opportunity to explore some fresh and engaging practical activities and equipment with a supporting expert present. Using the DNA Fingerprinting using PCR and Gel Electrophoresis workshop with students combines expert teaching and allows schools to gauge the impact of the practical work on student learning and motivation.

Green Tick
Technicians