On Wednesday 21st September, the Higher Biology students were given a last minute opportunity to visit the Applied Sciences faculty of Napier University to participate in a PCR and gel electrophoresis workshop, supporting our study of genetics.
We took the tram out to Bankhead and headed up to the Sighthill campus on a bright and sunny morning. We were welcomed and escorted up the glass staircase of a stunning modern building, to a huge lab full of incredible equipment. We were joined by other students from Whitburn Academy, along with university staff and student demonstrators to assist us.
After a short introduction, we put on lab coats and gloves and began by practising our micro-pipette skills, transferring tiny volumes of liquid into small plastic Eppendorf tubes. Once able to do this proficiently, we started on our task of comparing DNA samples from unwashed salad leaves to check for the presence of harmful E.coli bacteria (responsible for the recent Dunsyre cheese food poisoning outbreak). Each pair of students created a ‘master mix’ containing DNA samples, DNA polymerase, primers and other solutions using their new skills, centrifuged it and then placed it in the PCR thermal cycler to amplify the DNA samples.
After lunch, we were taught how to load the gels for electrophoresis (well done to the 3 Drummond students who stepped forward to demonstrate this in front of 50 spectators!), and each pair set about carefully transferring their samples into tiny holes in the gel using a micro-pipette. After running the gels, they were analysed on a UV light box to check for DNA bands.
The students all agreed that they had a fantastic experience, and we would like to thank George Chambers, Tom Evans and the other staff and students at Napier for inviting us and for laying on such an amazing workshop. The students themselves were professional, polite, answered questions intelligently, volunteered to demonstrate techniques and carried out the practical activities with great care and concentration. They were a credit to the school, impressed the staff at Napier and should be very proud of themselves.