From broadening participation to increasing diversity and inclusion, MCB’s five most-viewed posts published in 2019 showcase our most read topics. Looking for ideas on how to improve your broader impacts? Read about Dr. Jewett’s BioBits kits. Interested in transitioning to a non-academic STEM career field? Dr. Cooper discusses how she ended up in university administration after a career as a researcher. New to NSF or interested in brushing up your reviewing skills? Read tips from MCB program directors on writing effective reviews.
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While CRISPR has become one of the most talked about gene
editing tools in the research community, easy-to-use educational activities
that teach CRISPR and related molecular and synthetic biology concepts are
Jewett and his team at Northwestern University have created a set of
user-friendly educational kits to address just this issue, called BioBits kits.
This tool was developed as a broader impacts activity in Dr. Jewett’s
currently-funded research (NSF
1716766) , investigating and expanding the genetic code for
synthetic applications such as producing non-natural polymers in biological
systems, and with collaboration and funding from several other institutions.
BioBits kits contain materials to run hands-on lab
activities designed to teach high school-aged students the basic concepts of synthetic
and molecular biology through simple biological experiments. Students add the
included DNA and water to pre-assembled individual freeze-dried cell-free
(FD-CF) reactions. The results are noticeable when the individual FD-CF
reactions fluoresce, release an odor, or form a hydrogel (depending on the
experiment). For example, the BioBits Bright kit includes six different DNA
templates, each of which encode for a protein which fluoresces a unique color
under blue light, directly demonstrating how proteins differ based on initial
DNA sequence. So far, three kits have been developed: BioBits Bright, Explorer,
and Health, with activities covering topics from the central dogma of biology,
to genetic circuits, antibiotic resistance, and CRISPR.
The visible (or smellable) outputs make the results
interactive and intuitive, engaging students in a relatable experience. In
addition to the FD-CF reactions and instructions, the kits contain example
curriculum, such as one independent research-based activity that asks students
to address ethical questions surrounding CRISPR, further engaging students in
the topic and providing a deeper understanding of the technology.