Did you know that within the nucleus of each of the cells in our bodies, there is 2 meters of DNA? If you could lay out all the DNA in your body from end to end, it would reach from the earth to the moon and back hundreds of times!
Cuba High School biology students learned about DNA on a field trip to the UNM campus this week. With the help of UNM college students and their professor, Irene Salinas, the Cuba students looked at cells under a microscope and extracted DNA from strawberries by using beakers, detergent, and a filter. There are many reasons why scientists extract DNA from cells. For example, some scientists extract DNA from human cells to research illnesses and make more effective medicines. Others work with DNA from food crops to develop ways to make them resistant to pests or drought. Forensic scientists extract DNA to help solve crimes.
The Cuba students also visited UNM’s Museum of Southwest Biology, where Dr. Jonathan Dunnum showed them mammal specimens and explained their importance in research. For example, the museum has five different specimens of one species of gopher, but the fur of each specimen is a different color. Tags on the specimen explain where they were collected, and the locations were very different. In fact, the fur of each gopher matches the color of the soil in its habitat. This allows the gopher to blend into its surroundings and make it less likely to be caught by predators and more likely to stay alive to mate and pass on its genes to the next generation.
The students also got to look at the huge vertebrate bone of a beluga whale in comparison with the tiny vertebrate bone of a shrew. The diversity within the class of mammals is astounding!
The Cuba students ate lunch with UNM students who are studying biology and were encouraged to ask the college students about applying for or attending college. Overall, the trip showed the Cuba students some of their many options for college and future careers. Thanks to Dr. Irene Salinas, Dr. Jonathan Dunnum, the Biology Undergraduate Society (BUGS), and Mrs. Olivia Casaus, Cuba High School biology teacher, for helping us organize this trip!