Thursday, 10 May 2018

Y13's Animate CRISPR Delivery to Cells

Year 13 has been learning about how humans manipulate genetic transfer in other organisms. In other words - how have humans managed to change the genes of species that they have found most useful? These genetic manipulations started thousands of years ago with the selective breeding of farm and domesticated animals such as goats and dogs and has continued to advance.

Now we're at a stage of technological capability that scientists can 'knock out' or 'switch off' a SINGLE gene they're interested in with massive precision, OR even insert or 'knock in' a new / healthy copy of a gene! This is particularly interesting in terms of healthcare - fixing a disease caused by a single gene by replacing the altered copy with a healthy version!

Year 13 first learnt about how CRISPR (a recent gene editing technology) works before they attended a workshop about CRISPR's potential for use in New Zealand's healthcare system.

Gene editing in Healthcare by The Royal Society Te Aparangi

The Y13's before going into the workshop.

Lonise, Clearissa and Sharon.

A few days after the workshop we had a chat about things we had understood, didn't quite understand, and questions we (myself included!) were a bit shy to ask. We fired off a quick email to one of the scientists who were at the workshop, and were pleasantly surprised when he replied! 

Here's the link to his responses to our questions.

The first two questions we had were about how scientists actually deliver CRISPR into cells so that it could manipulate the genome in cells, such as embryos - or whole organisms. 

The scientist explained that DNA that contains the instructions to build CRISPR's Cas9 enzyme and gRNA and possibly a template can be packaged up and delivered into a cell via a virus or nanoliposomes. Embryos can have the DNA for CRISPR injected directly into them along with sperm, before fertilisation. 

Year 13 spent their double period today animating one of the three delivery methods with play-doh. 

The followup activity for this is to have students present their animation verbally to the class, or for me to combine all of these FANTASTIC animations into a short video and then have students practice writing descriptions of what they observe. 

Our school and cluster goal is to improve the literacy of our students. I'm hoping that this activity scaffolds confidence in writing scientific explanations. 

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