OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Whodunit? The butler or the professor?

02/01/1999

CORVALLIS - A simulated "crime" will occur this week at Oregon State University and some bright young biology students from Benson High School in Portland will try to figure out who is guilty.

The Feb. 5-6 event is part of the Science Connections program operated by the OSU College of Science. It will allow a couple dozen students to come to an OSU laboratory and practice some of the techniques they've learned in modern molecular biology.

"We'll start with a crime scene complete with a body outline on the floor and some DNA samples in the area," said Kevin Ahern, an instructor in biochemistry and biophysics who will conduct the program along with research associate Indira Rajagopal. "Then we'll round up three or four of the usual suspects and let the students get DNA samples from them. Only one of the suspect's DNA will match that of the crime scene."

The exercise is not really for the students to learn criminology or forensics, Ahern said, which are not taught at OSU, but rather to give them a fun exercise and practice in real-world use of some biological laboratory techniques they have been working on.

The students will use a technique called PCR to amplify DNA in both the crime scene and from the suspects. They will analyze the PCR samples by loading the DNA onto a gel and performing electrophoresis. The gels will be stained, photographed and the various DNAs will be compared. In a previous trip to OSU, the students learned how to transform bacterial cells with plasmid DNAs, how to use an enzyme called luciferase, and how to use a device called a luminometer to measure light given off by luciferase when it is in the presence of ATP and luciferin.

They also got a tour of OSU's 3-D classroom and learned about proteins and DNA.

"We've worked with students from several high schools from around the state, but the interest and knowledge levels of the Benson students are really outstanding," Ahern said. "Despite the fact that we had designed experiments for students at the freshman or sophomore level of college, two students asked if we could make things a bit harder."

Science Connections is a collaboration between OSU science faculty and Portland's K-12 public schools, which helps to provide students with more access to experts in chemistry, environmental science, molecular biology, materials science and several other fields of study.