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Area students get training in biotech at THS
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Turlock High School AP Biology students Angela Vallerga (left) and Brittany Snyder inject bacteria into holding gel dish. The two seniors took part in an all-day biotechnology lab at THS on Wednesday. Both seniors hope to have careers in medical science. - photo by JONATHAN MCCORKELL / The Journal

Did you know that you can transform e-coli bacteria by injecting DNA extracted from a jelly fish that will create a florescent protein, which could then create insulin for use by a human diabetic? If you didn’t know that (or even have a clue what protein exactly is) you can rest assured that a group of about 30 students from area high schools do know.

Advanced Placement Biology students from Turlock, Ceres, Hughson and Central Valley high schools received a hands-on opportunity to learn about the growing biotechnology industry during an in-house, all-day field trip at Turlock High School on Wednesday.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in biotechnology, which includes fields like medical research, chemical and forensic sciences and agriculture, should increase by about 18 percent by 2018, faster than most occupations.

Turlock High biology teacher Sonja Raynes explained the significance of the field trip, “Students are learning about the basics of biotechnology here. This lab is the most realistic as far as what they would be doing in a real-world job.”

Typically, student labs are limited by class schedules.

 “We will have a one-hour class and they’ll (students) spend 10 minutes setting up and 15 minutes cleaning up,” said Raynes.

With the all-day lab the young scientific minds were able to follow a lengthy set of protocols to explore the basics of biotechnology uninhibited by bell schedules and worries of cleaning up and rushing to their next class.

Much of the day’s labs were closely related to something you would see on the popular crime TV series, “CSI.” Thanks to shared cooperation between the participating high school programs students were able to use high tech equipment to explore and conduct DNA fingerprint analysis, as well as use a polymerase chain reaction machine (PCR). A PCR allows a forensic scientist to amplify a single piece of DNA billions of times in just minutes. This technology is used by law enforcement to determine DNA matches, leading to the identification of a suspect or victim, and even paternity test.

The majority of students indicated they planned on going into the medical field, which is using biotechnology at an ever-increasing rate.

CSU Stanislaus genetics professor Janey Youngblom also gave a DNA sequencing lecture during the field trip.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.