Nineteen students in the Honours Science program at Vanier College will long remember their final year at Vanier. That’s because they did real science research and published their results in an NIH (National Institute of Health)-based genetic sequence database. That’s quite an accomplishment for 19-year olds still in CEGEP. The students isolated and cloned part of a gene from the common dandelion plant (Taraxacum officinale) then successfully sequenced a novel DNA section from the gene for the enzyme GAPDH (glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase) that is involved in the processing of glucose in cells.
Published in the NCBI GenBank
The DNA sequence for the dandelion GAPDH enzyme is now part of an international bank of genetic sequences, the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) GenBank, (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/genbank/), a repository that houses international DNA databases relevant to biotechnology and biomedicine. Through the NCBI GenBank scientists from all over the world will be able to access and use the sequence in their own research (accession number KF184656; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/nuccore/KF184656 ). The sequencing of this novel DNA segment of the gene for GAPDH will contribute to the understanding of the evolution and biodiversity of this enzyme system that is present in almost all living forms on Earth, including humans.
Learning the process of science and getting results
Now that the students who did the research are attending university, the importance of their work is truly hitting home. As with all science, it’s not just the results that count, it’s the process, and in carrying out their unique project the students learned the basic methods of genetic and molecular biology used in all biological research. “Vanier definitely offered me a unique opportunity with this project,” says Stephanie Wiseman. “I have friends who attended other cegeps and none of them had such an enriching experience. This project truly prepared me for university-level research.”
Prepared for university-level research
Stephanie says her work on the DNA project helped get her accepted into Concordia University’s prestigious Science College. “The cloning project was a unique experience that provided me with a true taste of what it’s like to work in a lab. The experience I gained from this project made me feel better prepared for university-level research than students who did not.”
The kind of research usually only done at the Masters and PhD level
Many of the techniques used in the project are only seen at the Master’s or PhD level, or in some higher-level undergraduate courses. “I used techniques such as isolating DNA, performing PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and the Sanger Method for sequencing DNA, purifying samples, and DNA sequencing analysis using world renowned analysing software,” says Vittoria Lipari another participant who is now at McGill University. “Some of these techniques I am only beginning to study theoretically in my university studies.”
The hardest thing I’ve ever done but I felt so accomplished
“We also had to make a final presentation to our professors and the Dean,” says Vittoria. “It was quite intimidating for CEGEP students. We had to be sure that we knew what we did, why we did it, and how this project had real significance. It was definitely one of the hardest things I had to do in my academic experience thus far, but when it was over, I felt so accomplished. I realize now this was the first of what will hopefully be many times I will face my peers and share my research with them.”
Another project underway again this year
Vanier Biology teacher Edward Awad who conceived and supervised the student research is continuing with a similar project again this year. “We will attempt to sequence the same gene but from two other plants related to the common dandelion to check for the level of inter-species variation.”
A spectacular idea
“Professor Awad had a spectacular idea when he decided to create this project for his students,” concludes Vittoria. “He foresaw the ways this experience would benefit students. If they are willing to be studious and learn from the project, I am sure it will be a gateway to their university studies, as this one was for mine.”