To say that City of Medicine Academy is blessed to be located where we are located would be an understatement. From our location in Durham between Duke and Roxboro streets we are 8 minutes from Duke University, 12 minutes from North Carolina Central, 20 Minutes from UNC Chapel Hill, 25 Minutes from Research Triangle Park, and 30 minutes from NC State. We certainly do not want for opportunities to get the students out to see and touch that which is on the cutting edge of medical and scientific research. Honestly, I would confess that I've not been good about getting my students out into the community as frequently as I should. Somehow I've just not taken advantage of the opportunities that are available, but I'm getting better.

This summer I had the chance to attend a professional development session at the BRITE Institute and NC Central University. The BRITE Institute was created with the expressed intent of preparing students for careers in the biomedical sciences. Students of the BRITE program participate in groundbreaking, pharmaceutical researching during their undergraduate years and have access to an extensive network of internship opportunities with local biotech companies. BRITE also has an extensive outreach program that allows students from Durham Public Schools to come experience some of the work that they do in their labs. After learning about their program I decided that a visit to BRITE would be the perfect way to get my students some practice with PCR and Elctrophoresis.

On November 19th we all packed into cars and rolled down to the campus for our day at BRITE. Upon arrival we hopped into the lab and got some DNA running through the process of PCR. The class then took a tour of their facilities to meet research scientists and hear about the kind of work that they are doing. Our visit concluded with removing our DNA samples from the thermocycler and running them through the process of electrophoresis. To be candid, I did not feel that the lab portion of the visit was well run, but the students trooped on and still took care of business. The tour, however, was incredible. We got to see cancer cells in culture, hear about manipulation of molecules in the creation of pharmaceuticals, and see plants that are being engineering to produce drugs. I'll admit that I geeked out just a bit. I think that the visit generally accomplished it's intended educational purpose, but if you were to ask the students I'm sure that they would tell you that their favorite part of the outting was our lunch at Bull City Burgers. C'est la vie ...

This edition of the week in review will include submissions from students in the week prior to our BRITE visit and during the week of the BRITE visit. Really, I just got a bit behind. Enjoy!

Taylor Begins:

We started out the week with a new unit on viruses, cloning and genetic technology. We delved into topic of the ebola virus. Because this topic is relevant to both our new unit and to current events, we watched a documentary on the virus from earlier this year and created presentations on the specifics of ebola transmission and mutation. In preparation for our field trip to the BRITE program at NCCU, we discussed in depth how different genetic technology works and what they can be used for. We also completed an activity simulating microarray results in discerning between normal DNA and cancerous DNA. Finally, we discussed the ethical issues concerning cloning DNA and organisms. This controversial topic spurred important questions, such as: “If scientists could clone a person, would the clone still be considered a human?” and, “What would be the scientists’ reason for cloning humans?” and also, “Since clones often have health-related problems, would it be fair to clone a human?” Having such a small class size makes it easier to have professional discussions on such controversial topics. As we near the beginning of the holiday season, the AP Bio students are still hard at work learning about new and innovative applications of science to our daily lives.

Ramya Adds:

On Friday, much to our surprise, we deviated from our usual modus operandi of barreling through a timed quiz, in order to barrel through the ethical dilemma of embryonic stem cells and how that extends to realms of research. Of course, this is AP Biology, so shooting from the hip is out of the question; we had to read the article and take notes on interesting facts, queries about the subject, or observations.

The article highlighted the researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University, in their achievement of cloning embryos. They did this by placing adult cells into the prepared eggs, which made genetically identical embryos. Before we go any further, it is crucial to know that these embryos were never going to become babies. This was emphasized in the text as something that they, as “legitimate scientists”, were never going to do. At least, not yet. Embryonic stem cells are not only interesting to study, they have the capacity to become any specialized cell in the human body, unlike adult cells, which lack malleability. However, later in the article, Dr. Johnson identifies induced pluripotent stem cells as the dominant platform, due to their low risk of genetic defect. The four main ethical issues at hand here are:

The viability of the embryo; can one consider it a human being, and if so, what rights does it have?

The possible abuse of this technology to produce genetically superior babies.

Is it ethical to use an embryo as a cell bank?

Should there be compensation for women who donate eggs?

We sat around the square table and began our debate. Despite having been told at the outset that there were no right or wrong answers, some of us, especially me, began to feel that maybe the concept of right and wrong is omnipresent in such scientific discoveries. All of us seemed to refute the idea that the embryo was living, but we had chasms of disagreements on numbers 2 and 3. However, what really brought it home was whether science should be regulated by ethics. I will discuss this more in my upcoming blog post, but perhaps science and ethics are merely two shades of the same color. In respectfully debating our ideas, we learned how to utilize sources as evidence and analyze every side of the equation, all of which will help us when we have only our writing to defend us in the AP Biology Free Response Test. The future of embryonic stem cells and cloning is still unravelling and ethics is the loom through which it is displayed.

Sharhiar Contributes:

This week turned out to be more exciting than the usual week in Ap Biology class…

We started off with a new bacteria lab. We watched as the bacteria grew on gels that we secluded into little colonies. They smelled awful. The following day we took out first field trip to the NCCU Bright Center and I wouldn’t say that it was the best fieldtrip that I’ve been on. We’ve done the exact same fieldtrip in sophomore year actually, but this time understood what was going on because in class we studied electrophoresis. The best part was afterwards at Bull City Burgers. I have never been there before, but they had very interesting choices of sodas to choose from (I like the cream cola).

Also this week we observed our fruit flies. We took a pair of flies from the results that we had and exterminated the rest. This allows us to create a new generation of flies that was not present before.

On Friday, the last day of this week, the class prepared for the Unit test that is scheduled for Monday. It consists of material from viruses all the way to Genome Evolution. The Jeopardy this week seemed to be a little easier than the previous ones for some reason. Either that, or my studying has been effective.

That’s pretty much what has happened this week, I’m pretty sure everyone’s ready to get done with this last test so we can all stuff our faces on thanksgiving!

Sofia Concludes:

This week was quite eventful in (and out) of Lab 207. We started to learn about viruses and genetic biotechnology. Tuesday was our first ever field trip. We took a trip to the BRITE lab and performed gel electrophoresis. Through a procedure of filling wells with our expensive pipettes and running electric current down our gel, we were able to conclude on who did the crime after observing our gel. In addition, we performed another lab in class that consisted of inserting an ampicillin resistant gene into the bacteria E. Coli. Although it seems that only one group was successful, the lesson was learned; if the bacteria is still alive in the ampicillin environment, then it has gained the gene of interest. We are also still into our fly project. Let me just say those tiny little bodies are difficult to count. They are also insistent in leaving their vial. I am looking forward to actually seeing our desired traits. In all, there is something to take away from this unit: Scientists love DNA and genetic information is essential.