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Somerville Students Simulate Crime Scene DNA Analysis on Mobile Laboratory

The BU Mobile lab taught Somerville High School students about DNA and exposed them to one of the Boston region's most important industries: Biotechnology

The exercise was meant to simulate something students might see on a "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation"-type television show.

In the scenario given to students, there was a crime, and a DNA sample was lifted from the crime scene.

The students, mostly 9th and 10th graders, had a list of suspects, and they had to match those suspects' DNA with the DNA found at the scene.

In doing so, they performed techniques called "restriction enzyme digest" to cut the DNA into fragments, and then "gel electrophoresis" to analyze the different sections of DNA.

If that sounds a little complicated to you—as it does to me—here's something that that might be easier to swallow:

It all happened on a retrofitted school bus called the Boston University Mobile Lab.

Part of the the BU CityLab, a lab in Boston that works with high school students, the BU Mobile Lab travels around to schools in the area, giving students the opportunity to work with modern biotechnology equipment.

Karen Woods, chair of the high school's science department, and herself trained in biology, said the Mobile Lab let students experience something new and that it could help "awaken that passion" for biology that some students might have.

This was the first year the Mobile Lab came to Somerville High School, and it sat outside the school for two weeks, braving a February blizzard. "We're really excited about it," Woods said.

Like any school activity, some students will love it, others might pursue other interests, but by exposing students to a state-of-the-art laboratory, some may choose to take biology electives in 11th and 12th grades. And a few may catch a glimpse of what they'd like to do for a career.

It goes without saying that biotechnology is "a booming industry, particularly in this region," Woods said.

Somerville High School Headmaster John Oteri said, "This is a great opportunity for our kids, a great community partnership."  

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