Saturday with DNA

Get to Know GMOs

Saturday April 13, 2019

Cassidy Danyko, Chair of Outreach

WiSE Outreach has long been searching for a way to connect with the adult community.  We understand that an eagerness to learn and curiosity in science do not disappear as we become adults.  We wanted to find a way to get the adult community excited about science and challenge them to think critically and ask questions like a scientist.  On Saturday, April 13th, we were able to do exactly that with a special dual parent/kids event on GMOs that was the brain-child of WiSE Outreach Co-Chair, CSHL Graduate student, and plant biologist Lyndsey Aguirre.  In collaboration with the Dolan DNA Learning Center “Saturday DNA!” series, WiSE Outreach hosted the “Get to Know GMOs!” event. There was fun for everyone; As children split from the parents to take part in hands-on GMO activities, their parents learned about GMOs from our keynote speaker, Doreen Ware, PhD and had their questions regarding GMOs answered by a panel of CSHL scientists.

CSHL graduate student Danielle Ciren helps a student extract DNA from strawberries (left) while Doreen Ware, PhD teaches parents about GMOs (right).

For this event, children aged 10-14 took part in two fun activities related to genetically modified organisms.  At one station, they learned about the basics of DNA. Things got a little messy as the future scientists mashed up strawberries and bananas to extract DNA.  They were ultimately able to see the DNA as it precipitated out of the solution. For the other station, the children tested samples of processed food products for the presence of a GMO marker by gel electrophoresis.  They also learned about a few GMO examples like golden rice enriched with a vitamin A precursor and rainbow papaya resistant to a devastating virus.

CSHL graduate student and co-chair of Outreach Lyndsey Aguirre demonstrates pouring an agarose gel (left) that students use to separate pieces of DNA from different crops to test for evidence of genetic modification (right).

For the adult portion of the event, we invited USDA researcher and CSHL Adjunct Professor Doreen Ware, PhD to be the keynote speaker.  Early on, she set the tone of her talk to be inclusive, informative, and educational from all points of view about the topic of genetically modified crops.  Doreen gave us a good introduction to the science behind GMOs and a great platform to base our GMO discussion on. Doreen Ware:

CSHL Adjunct Professor Doreen Ware speaks to the parents about the science behind GMOs.
  • Clarified what is/is not characterized as a GMO in the US.  (Accelerating selective breeding by CRISPR is not considered GMO!)
  • Taught us about the plasticity of plant genomes and McClintock’s “jumping genes”.
  • Discussed how “non-GMO” farmers in the past have altered the genetic makeup of plants by selective breeding, EMS, and x-ray mutagenesis.   
  • Commented on how farming GMOs can reduce the amount of herbicides/pesticides needed for farming.  
  • Mentioned how the advances in sequencing have broadened the knowledge scientists have about plant genomes.
  • Encouraged everyone to keep asking questions, even after today.  The best we can do is continually educate ourselves!

When Doreen’s talk was complete, we invited CSHL graduate student Lyndsey Aguirre and Postdoctoral fellows Nick Gladman, PhD, and Jaynee Hart, PhD to join in the discussion as GMO panel members.   The audience had many questions for our researchers. It was a lively discussion with many thought-provoking questions and comments. The panel answered questions about:

  • GMO and organic labeling in marketing groceries.
  • The importance of sustainable farming methods.
  • The potential health effects related to GMOs
  • The use of GMOs as vehicles for drug development

A panel of scientists addresses parents’ questions and concerns. From left to right: Doreen Ware, Nick Gladman, Lyndsey Aguirre, and Jaynee Hart, PhD

At the end of the event, many stuck around to ask more questions.  It was a successful, stimulating day and we hope everyone was able to learn something new.  We had fun uniting our WiSE scientists with the public to create excitement around science.  

To learn more about GMOs, follow these links:.  

Food Evolution Movie: https://www.foodevolutionmovie.com/

List of Approved GM Crops in the U.S.: https://gmo.geneticliteracyproject.org/FAQ/which-genetically-engineered-crops-are-approved-in-the-us/

Debate on GMO food: https://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/genetically-modify-food

Get WiSE about Neuroscience and Cancer

On May 13, WiSE hosted local parents and students for a two-part event called “Get WiSE about Neuroscience & Cancer” at the Dolan DNA Learning Center (DNALC) in Cold Spring Harbor, NY. This was the first event of it’s kind at the DNALC. The students performed experiments using Backyard Brains equipment, similar to the experiments done at “Brain Day,” and learned how to be neuroscientists for the day. They worked with one another, as well as, cockroaches to understand how neurons work.

Simultaneously, parents were invited to a lecture from Dr. Camila Dos Santos and a panel discussion. Dr. Camila Dos Santos is a cancer researcher and was invited to present her work and inform the public of the research she is working on. Her lab focuses on the epigenetic regulation of normal and malignant mammary gland development, especially the alterations brought by pregnancy. Camila’s team works to improve the “notion of the mammary epigenome during normal development and use this information to gain insight into new preventive and curative strategies to target breast cancer.” Dr. Camila dos Santos also attended the panel discussion alongside post-docs, students, and research technicians. During the panel, parents were able to ask questions, such as about how research gets funded and about future opportunities for their children to be involved in science. We hope to plan more events like this in the future to include parents and give them more insight on research and science.

You can read more about the event here: https://www.sa-sha.org/advocacy/2017/5/15/get-wise-about-neuroscience-cancer

And you can learn more about Dr. Dos Santos’ work here: http://dossantoslab.labsites.cshl.edu/people/

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