Connecting the DNA dots

Teachers in an Ag/Med Biotech pilot workshop had a chance to see the connections between the two fields. Though career interest is high in healthcare and technology, students are unaware of the many opportunities in agriculture. The skills necessary apply to both, and this workshop made it clear.

Sponsored by GrowNextGen and BioOhio with support from BioRad, the workshop was held virtually with a select group of participants from around Ohio. Tom Fontana, director of research and education at Ohio Soybean Council, and John Lewis, president and CEO of BioOhio, and Erin Handsfield from Bio-Rad greeted the teachers. “Special thanks to the teachers for attending today and for what you do educating your students,” said Fontana. “Thank you again from our 24,000 Ohio soybean farmers.”

Guest speakers Kevin Flanigan, director of the Center for Gene Therapy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, addressed the use of gene research in identifying and dealing with medical problems. Zack Bateson from the National Ag Genotyping Center talked about plant DNA and how genetic changes can be made to help farmers deal with herbicide resistance. Both noted the overlap between their work.

GrowNextGen lead educator Jane Hunt noted that although students might not see the importance of biotech in ag, “if you tell them that weeds are affecting our food supply, and might reduce it by half, that brings the need for and importance of research home to them!” Bateson said that developments in biotech can engage students’ interests. “When I think of what we are able to do now in the classroom, to take a virus and inject it into a cell—that’s really fun for high school students!”

Loveland High School biotechnology teacher and GrowNextGen teacher leader Jamie Allison led the group through two lab activities. A Bradford assay was demonstrated to test the protein content of unknown substances and column chromatography demonstrated protein separation. Allison’s classroom experience helped him to offer suggestions about expanding the activities and about their relevance to the workplace.

Dan Whitesell, director of quality at Alkermes, led a brief virtual tour of his facility and spoke about the biopharmaceutical company’s work developing medicines in the fields of neuroscience and oncology. The global company has a facility in Wilmington, Ohio, and videos of work being done there showed the lab skills and techniques used in all biotech fields.

Check out the videos of the guest speakers and the description of Alkermes on the GNG YouTube channel. Watch our website for a new lesson on the Bradford Assay activity!