Polk County High School students under the guidance of science teacher Jennifer Allsbrook recently had an opportunity to be the first high schoolers in the nation to use cutting-edge DNA science in a classroom setting.

Allsbrook’s Introduction to Biotechnology students received a kit from Genes in Space, a collaboration between Boeing and miniPCR with the goal of inspiring young minds to solve real-world problems in the biological and physical sciences. The miniPCR Lab in a Box program allows educators to request a two-week loan of a miniPCR equipment kit to teach DNA analysis in their classroom.

Allsbrook learned about the Genes in Space program, where students enter a contest suggesting topics for scientific investigations to be carried out on the International Space Station, while attending the National Science Teachers Assocation STEM Forum and Expo in July. She immediately signed up for a chance to use the equipment, and Polk County High School was chosen as the first school in the nation to participate.

“I was extremely excited to be chosen for the program,” Allsbrook said. “This opportunity allows students to see the application of the procedures and laboratory skills we are learning in class to real-world science.”

Polk County High received the equipment and laboratory kit in early October. Students first discussed the program and kit via Skype with Dr. Emily Gleason from miniPCR. Students then spent three days conducting experiments based on a simulated outbreak of food poisoning to discover if the food supply for a space colony was contaminated by microbes. This simulation utilized the same techniques and equipment that could be used on the International Space Station to investigate such an outbreak.

“The students seemed to really enjoy this experience and are interested in entering the 2018 Genes in Space contest,” Allsbrook said.

Upon completing the laboratory experience, Allsbrook shared pictures and student reactions with Dr. Gleason, who blogged about it.