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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Biology Honor Society Gets Kids Excited About Science

Tri-Beta event introduces area students to DNA.

2014-12-11
Jessica Bies, Mankato Free Press, 12-11-2014

NORTH MANKATO — They stared at the small test tube intently, waiting for the clear liquid inside them to change, waiting for something, anything, to take shape behind the plastic.

Two minutes passed. Then two more. Then one more. The next 30 seconds seemed to drag on.

Suddenly Hope Kilmer giggled. A smile lit up her face.

“It looks like snot,” she said, laughing.

She twirled the liquid inside the vial gently, watching as a white, almost viscous, substance began to form at its center.

“It's my DNA!” she said.

Kilmer, a seventh-grader at Mankato East Junior High School was just one of nearly a dozen area children to see their own DNA during a recent event at North Mankato Taylor Library. They extracted samples of their genetic code themselves, in a hands-on laboratory experiment led by Minnesota State University, Mankato's biological honor society Tri-Beta.

David Sharlin, faculty adviser for the group, said hopefully the experiment is just the first of several outreach events Tri-Beta hosts. The students would like “Discovering DNA: It's in your genes,” to become an annual event.

Not only would it give kids something fun to do on a school night, but it could be a way for Tri-Beta to get area kids excited about science.

“We just wanted to do a little more outreach to the community, kind of getting away from the stigma that if you go into science, you're a little bit nerdy, you're a little bit dorky, you're a geek,” Sharlin said.

Science is far from geeky, Sharlin said. In fact, it can be pretty darn neat.

Laura Chopp, president of Tri-Beta agreed. The experiment of extracting and isolating DNA was one of the coolest she could think of, not only because the procedure is one Minnesota State Mankato students frequently perform in the university's lab, but because of what DNA is.

“DNA is what makes you, you,” she told the kids.

Not only that, but no one has the same exact DNA, which means everyone is special and unique.

“No one in this room, no one in the world, unless you have an identical twin, has the exact same sequence as you,” Chopp told the kids.

Chopp said the goal of the event was to teach kids that anyone can be a scientist, no matter their genes. The opportunity to get your toes wet helps, too, she added. Chopp told a group of girls that before she went to Minnesota State Mankato, she wanted to be an anthropologist. But after some time in the lab, performing experiments and extracting DNA, she changed her mind, drawn in by how exciting medical research is.

“Now I'm really hoping to share my passion for science,” she said. “My excitement.”

Some of the kids caught her fever for science and said they could envision becoming researchers. Emma Bastian, a seventh-grader from East Junior High, said she wants to work with animals one day and perhaps even do research involving their DNA.

“I want to do swabs of frogs and dogs and snakes and all kinds of animals,” she said. “I want to see all the animals' cells.”

Fourth-grader Zack Wells and his 8-year-old brother, Lucas, were equally excited. And both were blown away by the fact no one's DNA is the same.

"It's all different," Lucas Wells said excitedly.

That fact made the activity more engaging, said his mom Karen Wells. The experiment made the kids feel personally connected to the science behind it. When it was done, they even got to take home a sample of their DNA in a small amulet.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at www.mankatofreepress.com.

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