Mount Madonna School brings CRISPR technology to the classroom – Santa Cruz Sentinel

WATSONVILLE — High school students in the biomedical engineering class at Mount Madonna School in Watsonville recently conducted a gene-editing experiment using CRISPR technology, led by Lisa Catterall-turned-pharmaceutical researcher and science and engineering teacher.

“Students need to know how the world works and where they fall when they enter it,” Catterall said. “This technology is going to be so incredibly relevant and whether they do biological research or not, which some of the kids do, they need to be educated voters. You need to know what the real story is when ethical questions arise.”

Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats or CRISPR technology allows scientists and students to locate and edit a specific snippet of DNA or a gene to produce different outcomes such as: B. Eliminating deadly genetic disorders such as sickle cell anemia or in the case of the 11th grader in Catterall’s Honors Science Class, which switched a lactose-tolerant gene to an intolerant one.

Although it might seem that a classroom experiment using cutting-edge gene-editing technology would involve a room full of expensive specialized equipment, Catterall says the experiment is simple and inexpensive.

“Ten years ago any genetic engineering was very expensive,” Catterall said. “CRISPR is very, very simple.”

Science teacher Lisa Catterall holds the CRISPR in a Box learning kit.  Credit: Aric Sleeper
Science teacher Lisa Catterall holds the CRISPR in a Box learning kit. Credit: Aric Sleeper

The materials for the gene editing experiment come in a ready-to-use educational kit that costs about $150 and requires some additional equipment typically found in a high school science lab, such as a B. Graduated cylinders, pipettes and personal protective equipment.

In addition to learning and performing the scientific procedures associated with gene editing, Catterall students discuss the ethical and philosophical implications of the technology’s potential applications.

“I’m not exactly sure what I think about using gene editing,” said graduate student Cy Harris. “I think it could be good if it’s used to eliminate diseases or gene mutations that affect people’s quality of life.”

Fellow junior Anya Gonzalez shared similar ethical views with her lab partner.

“CRISPR is something that’s very controversial, and I think our ethics are behind the technology, so we have to decide where to draw the line on gene editing,” said graduate student Anya Gonzalez. “But I think if we could use it for the greater good, it would be phenomenal.”

Most students agreed that the potential of the technology is both exciting and disconcerting.

“There’s a lot of potential to do both good and bad, and that’s kind of scary,” said student Emma Monclus. “I don’t know what I think about designing the perfect baby, but there is a lot of potential to focus on preventing health problems.”

“There are two ways CRISPR can go,” said student Ona Musoll-Buendia. “Some people want to use it to cure deadly genetic disorders, which is good, but others want to create a super soldier that doesn’t feel any emotion or pain so they can just keep fighting, and that’s not okay at all.

A Mount Madonna student smears bacteria on a plate.  Credit: Aric Schläfer
A Mount Madonna student smears bacteria on a plate. Credit: Aric Schläfer

For students like Sophia Manzur, the best thing about the CRISPR lab is being able to complete every step, from mixing the components to streaking the plates with bacteria.

“I’ve always loved doing hands-on activities, and I like science and math,” said student Sophia Manzur. “I’m a tactile learner so the whole experience is amazing.”

Though she might end up choosing an engineering field, junior Erin Kavitsky said she’s intrigued by CRISPR and its future implications.

“I didn’t know much about CRISPR before this class and it blew me away,” said student Erin Kavitsky. “I think it’s so important, especially for younger generations, to learn more about it, and I think this could even be taught to middle school or high school students.”

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