Science education outside of the classroom at Alabama's HudsonAlpha Institute

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Sandra Porter
The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is a non-profit organization that opened it's doors in April, 2008. One of the great things about this institute is it's commitment to sharing biotech knowledge with the surrounding community. For the general public, HudsonAlpha has a ongoing written series on biology topics called Biotech 101. Teachers will probably find this useful too. There's a great description of Copy Number Variation written by Dr. Neil Lamb, their director of educational outreach. Some of the other pieces discuss Microarrays, Epigenetics, and RNAi. School programs include Biotechnology Summer Camps, High School Programs and even programs for teachers. Note to DIY biologists, take note, here's how the 7th graders extract DNA from strawberries:
Working in small groups, students put strawberries in plastic bags and crushed them, then added a small amount of lysis--detergent and salt--which broke down the fruit's cell membrane. The students then filtered the strawberry liquid and poured it on top of cold alcohol, causing the strawberries' DNA to clump and become visible. The students recorded observations throughout.
Figure 1. The remnants of a strawberry smoothie are on the bottom of this tube. Precipitating white strands of DNA are appearing in the liquid on top. This image is from the Madison Area Technical College. Check out their very easy procedure for isolating DNA from fruit smoothies. If you're doing this at home, you can use a plastic bag instead of the test tube and rubbing alcohol instead of 95% ethanol.
I never really thought about Alabama as a biotechnology powerhouse. But this article from Education Week says that:
Biotechnology industries have gained a foothold in Alabama, and in the Huntsville region, in recent years. Today, 90 biotech-related companies are either doing business or have headquarters in the state, according to the Alabama Development Office, a state agency. HudsonAlpha hopes to create at least 800 jobs within five years.
HudsonAlpha is getting scientists involved in the act, too. from EdWeek:
The institute also lends its scientific talent to local schools. One such arrangement allowed a team of scientists guide a recent lab on enzymes for an Advanced Placement Biology class at Huntsville High School. The visiting scientists, who included Huntsville-area postsecondary faculty members, were led by Bob Zahorchak, a former biotech-company executive and college professor who now administers an intern program at HudsonAlpha.
Reference: Sean Cavanagh, Scientists Delve Into Public Education, Education Week Jan. 7, 2009.

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