AP Bio Unzips Their DNA

Students add their own DNA to the gel to perform gel electrophoresis.   Photo credit: Faezhan Choudhary

Students add their own DNA to the gel to perform gel electrophoresis.

Photo credit: Faezhan Choudhary


Next time you see your mom, be sure to thank her for your mitochondria. That a mother’s DNA provides the “powerhouse of the cell” is just one of the many things the AP Biology class learned on a trip to the Dolan Research Center March 13 and 26, where students were able to sequence their own DNA.

These trips to the Dolan lab are not a one time thing. AP Biology teacher Jessica Ross has been taking her students for seven years and counting. They don’t go only for the fun of it; the trip also counts as a mandatory lab from the College Board.

Maryam Khan ’19, a former AP Bio student, said that these trips allow students to trace their “genetic origins and compare them to peple from around the world.”

Ms. Ross explaind, “Each individual has a genetic code.”

After months of studying, the class went to examine their own mitochondrial DNA and learn how mitochondria played a role in how humans originated millions of years ago.

First, the students swished a saline solution and spit it out into a cup to get their cheek cells. 

“It was gross,” said Irma Candas ‘20. 

Through this process, Victoria Habbchy ’20 learned that 99.9 percent of human DNA is similar. The remaining 0.1 percent explains why everyone has physical variations.

Many students were surprised to find out how similar they were genetically to their classmates.

“At the end of the day, I can bring this to Midwood by helping others understand how our DNA is all the same,” Habbchy said.

Then, the students went through a series of titration in order to create a sample to use for a gel electrophoresis test (a method to show a relationship between two or more samples depending on the amount of bands that match). The other sample was sent to the Dolan Research Center to get the sequenced results of the nucleotides. 

The process took about three hours to complete, and the results will come in a few weeks.

“It was long, but I think it will be worth it since we will get to know more about ourselves,” said Carlos Garcia ’20.

Ms. Ross said, “We will use the data for a lab in class where we will see how much we match with each other, along with our ancestors and people from different countries.”

The students were able to learn more through the first-hand experience.

“In class we, would hear about DNA sequencing, but by going and doing it myself, it helped me understand the process more and be able to remember it,” said Zahra Mendhi ’20.

Ms. Ross said, “When you touch things, you tend to remember it more.” 

Dr. Merin from the lab said, “It was easier teaching to high school kids than my usual seventh and eighth graders because the students were already prepared with knowledge.”

There will be a summer program at the lab where students can research DNA sequencing. 

“We would love for students to come,” said Dr. Merin. 

Menahil Shahid ’20 said, “It was a fun trip. I will definitely go again to learn everything more in depth.”

“We don’t get the opportunity every day to research about what creates us in a whole,” said Shahid.

Habbchy said, “My favorite part of AP Biology is that we all work as a family and help each other out, and that the projects we do are up to date with society.”

“For example,” she said, “at the beginning of the year, each person was assigned a different type of cancer and had to do research on it. For me, it brought attention to the fact that many children suffer from neuroblastoma. This class helps you realize what is really out there in the real world.”

FeaturesCasey Levinson