J. Craig Venter Institute Teaches Students about Genomics at Annual High Tech Fair

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Students assemble sweet double helix models to erase any bitterness left from the experiment.

J. Craig Venter Institute Teaches Students about Genomics at Annual High Tech Fair

In January, JCVI was one of more than 40 San Diego STEM-related organizations who participated in the Fleet Science Center’s annual High Tech Fair. This year more than 3,000 local middle and high-school students, their teachers, and families descended upon Balboa Park throughout the two-day event to engage in exciting and interactive educational experiences. Students learned about local research being done in a variety of fields and had the opportunity to speak with scientists about career opportunities.

Students who visited the JCVI booth learned about the range of our genomics research by engaging in some tasty (or not…) hands-on activities. They participated in a taste-test experiment to learn about one of their own inherited traits by discovering, almost shockingly at times, their phenotype of TAS2R38, a gene that encodes for bitter taste.

A student reaches in for a tasting strip to see if she can detect the bitter tastes of phenylthiocarbamide (PTC).

A student reaches in for a tasting strip to see if she can detect the bitter tastes of phenylthiocarbamide (PTC).

To do this they tasted phenylthiocarbamide (PTC), a compound responsible for bitter tastes similar to what is found in Brussel sprouts and cabbage (members of the Brassica family). About 70% of the population are “tasters,” and can taste some degree of bitterness in PTC.

The students then learned why by looking at the different genotypes of tasters and non-tasters by locating the variants in a DNA sequencing read.

Lastly, to help alleviate the bitter taste and to help learn about the structure and components of DNA, students built edible double helix models out of red licorice and marshmallows.

This year’s High Tech Fair was a great success; we had an incredible time talking to students about science and learning about their career aspirations. We are looking forward to next year’s event already!