Local High School Students Learn about Genomics at Summer Workshop
College of Wooster hosts group from Northwestern High School
WOOSTER, Ohio — Some say “tom-ā-toe,” some say “tom-ah-toe,” but for a group of students from Northwestern High School, it was less about pronunciation and more about information, specifically genomic information.
The 13 students were participants in a genomic workshop hosted earlier this month by The College of Wooster and funded through a large collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation.
“I thought it would be a really good opportunity for our students to learn college-level lab techniques,” said Kelly Woodruff, who teaches biomedical science, a STEM pathway course, at Northwestern. “It was also a chance for them to experience what lectures at a college-level would be like. They quickly realized that they had to pay close attention or they would quickly fall behind.”
Designed by Esther van der Knaap of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Dean Fraga of The College of Wooster with input from Woodruff, the five-day workshop focused on tomato shapes and the ways in which genomic data can be used to speed up the breeding process.
“Our objective was to expose the students to genomics and get them interested in agricultural research,” said Fraga. “Because Northwestern has a strong ag program, we thought they would be receptive to the workshop.”
The students spent the week investigating three genes and working with a genomic browser to learn how it aids researchers, particularly breeders in the battle against certain pathogens. They also looked at plant anatomy and what consumers want in terms of tomato shape, quality, seed, pulp, and color.
“The students isolated the genomic DNA and used molecular tools to look at various markers to determine what combinations of genes are most desirable,” said Fraga. “They also spent some time at the OARDC, visiting greenhouses and getting a sense of how genomics is done.”
In addition to the hands-on research, students were assigned readings about different aspects of agricultural science, including genetically modified organisms (GMOs). On the final day, they presented their findings to a group that included their parents.
“The workshop gave the students a better appreciation for how genomics affects breeders,” said Fraga. “Agricultural research has the power to change the world, and the students learned how tomatoes were domesticated in the past and how we are using genomics information to identify useful genes and make the breeding process more efficient in order to produce a better looking, better tasting tomato.”
The students’ response to the workshop was very favorable. “I thought it was a valuable experience because of the lab skills we gained,” said Chandler Dudte, “The information we were given was also very informative and useful.”
The pilot project set the tone for future workshops, which will be hosted by the College and supported through the grant for the next four years.