Tools and Techniques


  • NOVA scienceNOW | Genetically Engineering the Avian Flu

    Examine the threat of a virus being spread from birds to humans, and then from humans to humans, in this video segment adapted from NOVA scienceNOW. It details the mechanisms viruses use to infect cells, and explores how mutations in a virus may change its virulence and how it can spread. It also looks at work being done with a re-created flu virus—from the deadly 1918 strain—that may help prevent future flu pandemics.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Longevity Genes

    What is the secret to a long life? Hear from scientists using biotechnology to analyze relationships between specific genes and longevity in this video from NOVA scienceNOW. While mutations in specific genes seem to provide some groups of people with built-in protection against age-related disorders such as diabetes and heart disease, the amount of food one eats may also promote longevity by triggering a family of genes called sirtuins into action. Researchers are looking to develop drugs that will ward off disease and thereby promote longer life.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction

    In this interactive activity adapted from the University of Nebraska's Library of Crop Technologies, learn the basic steps of polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique used to produce short sections of DNA for analysis. In this technique, various components are combined in a microfuge tube and heated in a thermal cycler. The activity details the process, which results in thousands of identical copies of a DNA fragment. Note: The activity provides a simulation of the process. The characterizations of depicted components and their behaviors should not be taken literally.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Gene Cloning

    In this interactive activity adapted from the University of Nebraska's Library of Crop Technologies, learn how genes are cloned, or copied from one organism to another, using a multistep process that involves restriction enzymes and plasmids. The activity shows one bacterial cell "transforming" others with the addition of its DNA. The process naturally confers antibiotic resistance to the transformed bacteria, which in turn helps scientists isolate transformed bacteria from those that have not been transformed.

    Grades: 9-12
  • DNA Sequencing

    In this interactive activity adapted from the Dolan DNA Learning Center, examine the techniques geneticists use to read a sequence of DNA fragments. Sequencing enables scientists to analyze DNA and ultimately piece together the genomes of living organisms. The activity features Fred Sanger's original sequencing method, developed in 1977, and an automated version of Sanger's method that uses computers to read and interpret data. This newer technique provides a faster and more reliable means of sequencing.

    Grades: 9-12
  • DNA Extraction

    In this interactive activity adapted from the University of Nebraska's Plant and Soil Science eLibrary, learn how DNA is extracted from leaf tissue for molecular techniques, such as PCR. As the animated sequence shows, DNA extraction involves collecting cells, physically breaking them open to release DNA from the nuclei, separating the DNA from other cellular components, and precipitating DNA out of solution for final extraction. The process utilizes basic laboratory tools, such as microfuge tubes, pipettes, and a centrifuge. Other items used in purifying DNA include buffer solution, a solvent such as chloroform, and ethanol.
    Grades: 9-12
  • DNA Libraries

    In this interactive resource adapted from the Dolan DNA Learning Center, learn about DNA libraries, the tools scientists use to store and reproduce genetic information that they can later access for their research. The interactive resource features five different types of DNA libraries. Each gets its name from the type of molecule or organism used to host DNA segments of varying lengths.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Gel Electrophoresis

    In this interactive activity from the Dolan DNA Learning Center, learn about gel electrophoresis, the standard technique that makes comparative analysis of DNA samples possible. The activity demonstrates, step by step, the process in which DNA fragments are sorted by size as they move through an electrically charged gel matrix.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Model Organisms

    This interactive activity from the Dolan DNA Learning Center illustrates several model organisms—including mice, roundworms, and zebrafish—that are commonly used in scientific research. Learn how the small size and short generation time of these model organisms make them ideal candidates for study. The activity also describes additional advantages of each model.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Manufacturing Medicine | QUEST

    This video segment adapted from KQED's QUEST series discusses how scientists are using synthetic biology to quickly, and inexpensively, manufacture artemisinic acid, a precursor to the drug artemisinin, which treats malaria. Jay Keasling and Jack Newman describe how the genes that produce artemisinin in the wormwood plant were originally identified and then transferred to yeast, a process that can yield artemisinic acid in as little as 14 days. The video also discusses other potential applications of synthetic biology.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Using a Micropipette

    Measuring and dispensing small volumes of a variety of liquids is a critical part of many biology and chemistry laboratory procedures. The smaller the volumes, the more difficult this is, and the more important it is to do so accurately and precisely. Micropipettes are sophisticated instruments designed specifically to measure and dispense small volumes. This video, adapted from the University of Leicester, describes the basic function of a variety of micropipettes. It also demonstrates their proper use and the errors that can result if proper techniques and procedures aren’t followed. This resource is part of the Biotechnology collection.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Working with Small Volumes

    Pipetting very small volumes of liquid requires both accuracy and precision. As this video from BenchFly.com demonstrates, one technique for dispensing particularly small volumes is to deposit the liquid directly on the inside wall of the receptacle.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Running an Agarose Gel

    Gel electrophoresis is a powerful technique used to quickly analyze samples for variations in the DNA molecules they contain. While not nearly as precise as decoding an entire genome, gel electrophoresis uses molecular variability to match biological samples to their sources with a great deal of accuracy. However, as this video from the University of Leicester demonstrates, the technique is only as good as the procedures used to conduct the analysis.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Making an Agarose Gel

    Tiny differences in DNA sequences can have profound effects on who we become and how our lives and health progress. Techniques like gel electrophoresis make it possible to visualize these variations. As this video adapted from the University of Leicester emphasizes, carefully following established procedures when creating the gel and setting up the electrophoresis apparatus is necessary to achieve accurate results.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Electrophoresis and Gel Analysis

    Scientists use a variety of tools to analyze DNA. As this animation produced by WGBH and Digizyme, Inc. shows, gel electrophoresis enables them to determine the size of DNA molecules. Using this technique, together with other tools such as PCR reactions and restriction digestion, scientists can compare the molecular variations of two or more samples to determine such things as the identity of the DNA's source or the presence or absence of a particular gene or DNA fragment. This resource is part of the Biotechnology collection.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Genetic Engineering and Working with DNA

    The technique illustrated in this animation produced by WGBH and Digizyme, Inc., shows how scientists use natural processes and technological innovations to insert genes into loops of DNA called plasmids. Plasmids can then be introduced into bacterial or other cells, which will proceed to replicate the inserted genes or induce the cells to produce such valuable proteins as human insulin and growth hormone. This resource is part of the Biotechnology collection.

    Grades: 9-12
  • DNA Separation Lab in the Classroom and in Real-World Research

    In this video produced by WGBH, high school and middle school students participating in the Amgen Biotech Experience make use of research equipment and techniques identical to those used in academia and industry to separate DNA. Data generated from this kind of experiment can help researchers analyze DNA and the genetic make-up of humans in an effort to understand how and why diseases develop that affect millions of people. This kind of research can also lead to the development of drugs for disease treatment and/or vaccines for disease prevention.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Protein Purification Lab in the Classroom and in Real-World Research

    In this video produced by WGBH, high school and middle school students participating in the Amgen Biotech Experience use real-world research equipment and techniques to separate a genetically engineered protein from other molecules in a cell. As an industry research scientist explains, this process—called protein purification—is commonly used in research and development of disease therapies. The video also explores some of the reasons people have for choosing a career in science, including the rewards of knowing their work is helping others.
    Grades: 9-12
  • Recombinant DNA Lab in the Classroom and in Real-World Research

    In this video produced by WGBH, high school and middle school students participating in the Amgen Biotech Experience make use of real-world research equipment and techniques to insert a recombinant DNA molecule into a bacterial cell. By using precision instruments and techniques, scientists can insert foreign genes into bacteria. Understanding how proteins behave inside cells can lead to a better understanding of human diseases such as Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. 

    Grades: 9-12
  • Transforming Bacteria

    In this animation produced by WGBH and Digizyme, Inc., learn about bacterial transformation, the process by which DNA plasmids are introduced into a bacterial cell's genome. The animation presents the physical challenges of getting the plasmids through the cell's plasma membrane and the "heat shock" technique used to overcome them. It also shows how researchers test for successful transformations using experimental and negative control plates. This resource is part of the Biotechnology collection.

    Grades: 9-12

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