SIOUX CITY — Kevin Bock knew he either wanted to be a soldier or a video game designer when he grew up.
That was until the Spalding Park Environmental Science Elementary School fifth grader discovered how cool biomedical science could be.
“I thought medicine would be boring,” Kevin said as he and his class participated in a special science lab at the Sioux City Career Academy, Thursday morning. “But this is kind of fun.”
After all, scientists get to work with beakers and eye-droppers while extracting DNA from a strawberry.
Yeah, you read that right. It doesn’t matter if you’re a living human, animal or, even, a strawberry, you have DNA.
According to biomedical science pathway instructor Niki Coughlin, every cell has DNA in it and a complete set of genes in a cell is called a genome. Scientists use DNA to make new medicines, solve crimes and to modify crops so they’ll be resistant to be insect damage.
Coughlin said strawberries are being used in this experiment because each cell of the fruit has eight copies of a genome, meaning it has plenty of DNA.
More importantly, kids love to squish strawberries.
Don’t tell that to fifth grader Leanese Pelep, who thought mashing up strawberries in a sealed plastic baggie was “gross.”
“It feels yucky,” she said, handing off the baggie to her lab partner Genesis Cruz.
“It looks gross but it feels OK,” Genesis said as she smashed the strawberry into a pulpy paste.
After that, the squished strawberry is combined with an extraction agent (water, salt and dishwater liquid) before it is funneled into a cup covered in cheesecloth.
Then slowly tilt the strawberry liquid into a container that contains rubbing alcohol. If you look at the container, you’ll see the liquid will separate with white on top.
That white separation is actually the strawberry’s DNA.
“Wow, this is the type of stuff you’d see on ‘Grey’s Anatomy,'” Kevin said while poking at the fruit DNA with a wooden stick.
Kevin’s lab partner Brian Gomez said he’d never seen “Grey’s Anatomy” but the strawberry experiment met his approval.
However, it didn’t change Brian’s dream of becoming an NFL star when he grows up.
“Nah, I still want to be a football player,” he said with determination.
This isn’t the case with Kevin, though.
“If science means you get to do fun experiments, I wouldn’t mind becoming a scientist some day,” he allowed.
Which is good news for Coughlin, who said biomedical science isn’t just a stepping stone for wannabe doctors. It can also open doors for students wanting to learn about medical or nutritional science.
“The best way to teach kids is to give them a hands-on activity.” she explained. “They may think they’re having fun but they’re also getting a lesson in DNA that they’ll never forget.”