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article imageTeaching CRISPR and antibiotic resistance to high school students

By Tim Sandle     May 8, 2019 in Science
BioBits Health have developed a new hands-on, low-cost, high-technology synthetic biology kit for use in the classroom. A pilot study has recently been completed in Chicago and he kits are now ready for wider roll-out.
The new kits come from a start-up based at Northwestern University. The researchers, keen to take advanced biological concepts to the classroom, pitched themselves the following question "How can high school students learn about a technology as complex and abstract as CRISPR?" The answer was to develop something where a school teacher just needs to add water.
READ MORE: Gene editing CRISPR treats lethal lung diseases before birth
The educationalists put together BioBits, which is a suite of hands-on educational kits designed to allow students to undertake a range of biological experiments, simply by adding water along with different reagents into freeze-dried cell-free reaction chambers. The kits are intended to connect up complex biological concepts to visual, fluorescent readouts. This way students will know — after a few hours and why a simple visual check — the results of their experiments.
By using freeze-dried cell-free reactions bypass those complications and costs the researchers developed test kits that are safe to use and which are cheap to produce. The development of the kits is detailed in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology (see: "BioBits Health: Classroom Activities Exploring Engineering, Biology, and Human Health with Fluorescent Readouts").
New modules for the kits, launched in 2019, relate to modules for CRISPR and antibiotic resistance. CRISPR (which stands for Clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats) is a form of biological cut-and-paste technology which enables scientists to detect a gene defect within living cells and then apply molecular “scissors” to make changes. Antimicrobial resistance is arguably the greatest challenge faxed by humanity in terms of medicine, resulting in antimicrobials that have been used for several years no logger proving to be effective due to the organisms the drugs are intended to kill developing genetic resistance on an increasing scale.
The new modules have just been tested out by students in the Chicago area. Commenting on this, Northwestern’s Michael Jewett, who helped to develop the kits, said: "I’m hopeful that students get excited about engineering biology and want to learn more."
Through the kits students can learn and discuss the ethical questions and dilemmas surrounding the use of gene-editing technologies and the major health problems impacting on societies worldwide, and perhaps to inspire the next generation of synthetic biologists.
More about Biology, Crispr, Classroom, Science
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