Photo Credit Jan Garrison
Students learn the bitter truth about genetics
January 25, 2016

Do you like broccoli? Or is it too bitter for your taste?

How you feel about your leafy greens could actually be written into your DNA. Or, on a smaller level, your genes.

It is also something Culver Academies Biology are studying. Using a series of specialized units developed with the assistance of biology instructor Jackie Carrillo, teachers are taking students down a road that few – if any – other high school students are treading.

Culver students are studying genetic expression and used themselves as the test subjects in one case. It covered why some people can taste the bitterness in certain foods and others can’t.

“This is our first run-through,” of the specialized course, Department Chairman Chris Carrillo said while his students were finishing up reading their genetic markers for the bitter-tasting gene. The idea for the unit on genetics and the hands-on experiments came from Jackie Carrillo’s intensive summer session at Smith College. Smith collaborated with the New England Biolabs to develop a special two-week session that covers the science behind genetic expression.

Jackie Carrillo (Chris’ wife) brought the course details back to Culver and department personnel adapted it for high-school students. The first session allowed students to see the science behind their like or dislike of certain foods. Some people have a gene that makes certain foods taste extremely bitter while others can’t taste the bitterness at all.

The bitter-tasting gene is a left-over trait from when humans were hunter-gatherers. Tasting the bitterness often kept our ancestors from eating poisonous plants. As we have developed over millions of years, the need for that gene has mutated, according to a University of Pennsylvania study. Yet, some people will always carry the gene.

The gene can be discovered by doing a test that involves tasting a specially treated lab strip for bitterness so students know where they are on the spectrum. They then take two cheek swabs. One serves as a control and the second specimen has a special chemical reactant added to cut the gene. The treated samples are heated, and then both samples are attached to a neutral DNA ladder. After the gene samples have finished separating and attaching to the ladder, the people with the bitter-tasting gene will see two lines and those without will see just one.

The genetics unit closed out with the students working with bacteria and worms, Chris Carillo explained. He added Culver is probably one of the few, if not the only, high school delving this deep into genetic expression. But the field is developing rapidly and he believes it is important for students to have an understanding of the subject because it will become a part of their everyday lives.

“DNA fingerprinting will be something they will see in their future,” he predicted.

Share This:
Posted in Academic Faculty
Related Stories