Students are given a chance to delve into their DNA

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Students across the UK will be able to use cutting edge equipment and the latest molecular techniques to explore evolution and their own DNA, thanks to a partnership between the UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC) and the University of Sheffield, in collaboration with Science Brainwaves.

The University’s Department for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, has been selected to be a key national partner in the new UK-wide Hands-on DNA: Exploring Evolution project, which hopes to inspire pupils to take a greater interest in science.

The project is a collaboration between ASDC and its partner centres, At-Bristol, Nowgen in Manchester and the Centre for Life in Newcastle, and is supported by the Wellcome Trust.

The University and other selected organisations will be given training and equipment to enable them to deliver the A Question of Taste workshop, which was developed as part of the Survival Rivals project from the Wellcome Trust’s Darwin 200 celebrations.

The workshop specifically explores the evolution of an unusual trait in humans, where some people taste a particular chemical as being horribly bitter, while others can\’t taste it.

A Question of Taste explores the link between students’ ability to taste the chemical phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) and their TAS2R38 (bitter taste receptor) genotype. It features hands-on techniques including DNA isolation, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), restriction enzyme digests and gel electrophoresis, as well as activities to explain how PCR and restriction enzymes work.

Science Brainwaves, a University of Sheffield based ‘twig’ of the British Science Association, aims to make science relevant, fun and understandable to the general public and school children through various events and outreach projects. The workshops are part of the group’s bid to enthuse the next generation of scientists.

Tacita Nye, a University of Sheffield student and Director of Science Brainwaves, said: ‘We are extremely pleased that we were successful with our application for the innovative Hands-on DNA project. The project will provide us with the essential resources that we need to be able to engage more students in the fascinating world of molecular biology and science. We are thrilled that we are able to work with the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in bringing a fantastic new workshop to Sheffield students.”

Dr Penny Fidler CEO of ASDC, added: ‘We were delighted with the standard and variety of applications we received from right across the UK. This project is focused on training and equipping staff right across the UK to deliver excellent hands-on experimental science to school students in their regions. Those involved are hubs providing inspirational science experiences and include science museums, science and discovery centres, universities and learned societies.”

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