BAR HARBOR — More than 100 middle school students from four schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System spent part of last Wednesday — National DNA Day — at The Jackson Laboratory learning how scientists are using genetics research to better understand complex diseases.
“I’ve found that some of my kids are now really inspired and can’t wait to get to high school so they can do an internship with the lab,” said Bonnie Norwood, the middle school science teacher at Pemetic Elementary School in Southwest Harbor.
Michelle Whitman, the middle school teacher at Swans Island Elementary, said that in addition to learning something about genetics, “It was nice for the kids to actually be in the building that they drive by all the time. It’s a big presence in our community, and it was nice for them to learn what it is they do there.”
Students from Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor and Trenton Elementary also participated in the DNA Day field trip.
“The theme of the day was basically that genetics can be influenced by a number of things, including environment, and part of that is diet and exercise,” said Mike McKernan, program director for STEM and undergraduate education at The Jackson Laboratory.
Leah Graham, a postdoctoral researcher, talked with the students about “how diet and exercise can impact your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” said Kelly LaRue, a genomics education specialist.
Kristen O’Connell, an assistant professor at the laboratory, explained how mouse models are used to study diabetes and obesity. The students also got to see and ask questions, a lot of questions, about some of the mice that are used in studies of various human diseases.
Next year on DNA Day, students at Mount Desert and Tremont elementary schools, as well as seventh-grade students at Conners Emerson, are expected to visit the laboratory for DNA Day.
In 2003, Congress designated April 25 as National DNA Day to commemorate the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA in 1953 and the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003.