Senior Monica Patterson’s fascination with biological science led her to pursue a project that focused on biotechnology. She established and ran her own biotech lab at King Kekaulike High School in order to conduct her experiments.
As part of her research on the benefits of biotechnology, Monica not only had to delve into DNA and genetics information but she had to develop a position on the controversies involving biotechnology. She worked on the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Amplification process to determine the presence or absence of the desired single Alu sequence within the PV92 locus on chromosome-16. As Monica explains it, this particular Alu is unique in that it is dimorphic–present in some individuals, but not in others. Some individuals have the insert in the PV92 locus on one of their chromosome-16, others have it on both, and some have it on neither. The PCR process itself involves a repetitive series of cycles that allow the miniscule DNA to make millions of copies of itself in order for the DNA to be properly analyzed. As part of her lab protocol, she performed a Chi-Square Analysis to investigate the allelic frequencies of a population and interpret the results according to the Hardy-Weinberg Theory of Equilibration. She explained this theory as follows:
It states that an isolated population reaches genotypic stability over time, while an open population with fluctuating numbers will have a change in allelic frequencies over time. This explains why the genotypic distribution of my sample population was due to chance.
Monica reported her findings:
In my sample population of 32 students, there were 4 homozygous positive alleles (allelic frequency: 0.125), 11 heterozygous alleles (allelic frequency: 0.344), and 17 homozygous negative alleles (allelic frequency: 0.531). I wanted to determine whether or not this genotypic distribution was due to chance, which would support my null hypothesis; evidently, it was due to chance and my hypothesis was supported.
She also definitely strengthened her time management skills in this rigorous process. Planning and running a time-sensitive lab meant coordinating her school days and weekends around set-up, run time, and break-downs. The lab took place on campus in the science classroom containing all of the biotech equipment required to perform the lab. Monica acknowledged:
It took time and a great deal of hard work to get it done, but I managed to run the lab completely independently. I must thank Mrs. Sadie Mossman, my sophomore biology teacher and mentor. I also job shadowed Dr. Kenny Malott, a dermatologist, and got to observe the removal of skin cancer using micrographic surgery.
Monica wants to pursue a medical career so this project was invaluable. She says: “I had fun doing my project, learning through my independent research, and educating others about the topic. I designed it to be something that could both entertain others and interest me.”