Students Make Bacterial Cells Glow Through Bioengineering

If you walked into one of our advanced biotech classes recently, you’d be treated to a gorgeous sight: vials and plates of eerily glowing bacteria.
Student-scientists spent weeks tweaking the experiment that transferred a gene for a jellyfish’s bioluminescent protein into a bacterial cell, coaxing it to treat the DNA as its own. And that experiment was simply prelude to far more complicated ones, says teacher Sara DuBeau-Farley. “Next up our students will be building their own genetic systems — mixing and matching genes and gene switches to investigate how genes are turned on and off. They’ll also insert those systems into different cellular hosts to see how the effects differ,” she explains.

"When will I ever use this in real life?" is a complaint you’ll never hear uttered in a Gann's biotech class. The skills taught are those required to analyze crime scene DNA, produce synthetic insulin, engineer bacteria to detect toxins and trace the genetic history of humans. And their labs teach perhaps the most important scientific lesson of all— perseverance. “The emphasis is on resilience — you prototype, you fail, you refine and you repeat,” DuBeau-Farley says. “It’s an iterative process. And of course at the end, our students also learn how to effectively communicate their data and ideas.”
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