"The new techniques, which permit combination of genetic information from very different organisms, place us in an area of biology with many unknowns."
Starting today and continuing into the next two weeks, we'll consider intentional manipulation of DNA. During this time we'll consider some of the scientific advances that have enabled genetic engineering. For instance, almost any string of genetic material can now be reliably re-ordered. Additionally, the cross-species barriers to DNA transfer have been reduced to a point that its now commonplace to get a gene of interest expressed in an organism even when that gene came from a wholly different critter. These feats would have seemed like science fiction just 50 years ago when Watson and Crick published the double helical structure for DNA. And just as a replication mechanism did not escape Watson and Crick's attention when they described DNA's structure, the potential for positive and negative outcomes from recombinant DNA techniques did not escape anyone's notice when these techniques were developing. Everyone took notice: the scientists involved, the government oversight groups, the media and the public. As a class, we will consider some of the ethical, legal and policy issues that arose with the advent of recombinant DNA technology. But today we'll step back and consider the DNA material itself.
Why are we doing this??
If you've spent time in a research lab, there's a good chance you've worked with DNA there. But is that the only place DNA can be manipulated? What if the techniques and facilities for manipulating DNA were available to everyone? What if they already are? If you've never spent time working with DNA, then you're in for a treat. Today you'll isolate and purify some DNA using materials found in most any kitchen or garage. And from this challenge, you'll be better able to judge the capabilities and possibilities of "amateur bioengineering."
Cast Your Gel
This design is a variation of one published in Make Magazine Volume 7 "Backyard Biology."
Note: you'll cast your gel this time and run the DNA through it next time.
1. Cut ends off small container and tape closed. (Courtesy of Make Magazine. Used with permission.)
2. Arrange Legos for casting wells. (Courtesy of Make Magazine. Used with permission.)
3. Melt 1/2 tablespoon agar-agar with 1/2 cup running buffer in a paper cup and pour gel ~1cm thick. Lego casting wells should be embedded in agar-agar while liquid but not touch bottom of container. You might consider resting the casting tray in a larger container in case the tape leaks. (Courtesy of Make Magazine. Used with permission.)
4. Once gel has solidified, remove Legos, tape and add DNA with glycerin/red food coloring. (Courtesy of Make Magazine. Used with permission.)
Due at this week's Studio session.
In today's studio, project teams will be assigned. These teams are loosely grouped around common interests, be they project areas or project approaches. Once you have assembled into your groups, be sure to introduce yourselves, exchange contact information and figure out which interests landed you on the same team. Then you can use the rest of the studio time to work on your team's "facebook" page and your "team contract." The required content for each is:
As you develop your ideas, you might also want to keep in mind the requirements for your "3 ideas presentations" that will take place in two weeks. Think about what you will have to present, and how you would like to present it. Maybe the work could/should be divided up or maybe you need to hash out ideas on the spot together. You will use the time today and all of next week studio time to make real progress on these high level questions about your project.
These team building tools have been developed by MIT's Gordon Engineering Leadership Program, appreciating that teamwork and leadership underlie nearly all successful engineering projects.
Start by reading (independently) this short article that describes the different kinds of teams that exist and some common stages that teams go through.
Philips, Patricia. "So, You're Going to be a Member of a Team." Chemical Engineering Progress 93, no. 1 (January 1997): 141-144
Once everyone has finished reading, discuss the article as a group, paying particular attention to team and individual roles and responsibilities as they may relate to your particular project and team.
Then as a team, work through the following questions in order to form your team contract. You can work through the questions fast or slow, all of them or just a few. After considering these questions, write a team contract that you can all agree to work with for the rest of this term.
Questions To Consider To Create a Team Contract
These questions have been adapted from Lori Breslow's work at MIT for the subject, 15.279 Management Communication for Undergraduates (source: "Teamwork Questionnaire" the Study Materials section of this class in MIT OpenCourseWare).
Part 1: Goals
Part 2: Meeting Norms
Part 3: Work Norms
Part 4: Decision Making