July 30, 2004 | By: Aimee Heald-Nielson

Some Kentucky high school science teachers recently attended a workshop at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture to learn about genomics, which is the study of global gene function and expression. Their experiences will help them to better explain genomics to their classes starting this fall.

Glenn Zwansig teaches biology, microbiology and biotechnology at Dupont Manual High School in Louisville. He said he’s always trying to find new ways to present scientific material to his students, and workshops like the one at UK are a good way to find new experiments and techniques.

“Hands-on and minds-on activities make all the difference in the world because the kids are going to learn by doing it (hands-on experiments),” he said. “And not just by doing it, but also by thinking about what they are doing. That is extremely important with science.”

The workshop, called Relating Genetics to Everyday Life, is an outreach component of a much larger program which involves six institutions in six states. The program is funded by a National Science Foundation Grant and originated at North Carolina State University through and effort called The Science House. Mark Farman, a plant pathologist at the UK College of Agriculture, is the point man for the program at UK. He spent a week working with the high school teachers helping them to better understand genomics.

“We want to educate people about what genomics is and what all it entails,” he said. “In this project we are performing experiments to understand the genomics of the interactions between a fungus and the rice plant. We’re interested in learning the expression of genes and what genes are required on the fungal side and how the rice plant can resist those infections.”

Genomics is the branch of genetics that studies organisms in terms of their full DNA sequence.

“We desire to take modern genomics and biotechnology to the classrooms,” Farmen continued. “We want high school students to have a feel of what’s out there in this field and how we think it can benefit agriculture.”

Jane Dye VanHook teaches biology at Garrard County High School. She was particularly interested in a discussion about current tobacco research.

“Tobacco is big in Garrard County,” she said. “They told us about some research (UK) is doing that would let Kentucky farmers grow tobacco for alternative uses like pharmaceuticals.
Kentucky farmers know how to grow tobacco and to be able to use it as a more profitable crop would be excellent. It’s important to me because I grew up on a farm and tobacco put me through school.”

VanHook already plans to use the experiments she participated in back in her classroom this fall.

“A lot of my kids are very interested in agriculture so this is an area our good science kids can go into,” she said.

Before the workshop, the research team sent lab manuals to Kentucky High Schools detailing the experiments they would carry out during the week-long event on the Lexington campus. Teachers indicated interest, but Farman said only 24 could attend due to space and funding constraints.

“Even if every science teacher could not attend, they still have the manual and they can call us if they have any questions or need further information to do the experiments in their classrooms,” he said. “We are committed to continued support to make sure they know how to perform experiments.”

More information about the research and the workshops is available at http://www.science-house.org/fungal.


Writer: Aimee D. Nielson 859-257-4736, ext. 267

Source: Mark Farman 859-257-7445