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Students use DNA to develop killer theories with Horizon Discovery

Cambridge LaunchPad Innovators were tasked with using DNA to solve a murder at a recent project day with Horizon Discovery.

Year 10 students from Bottisham Village College, Coleridge Community College and Swavesey Village College joined Horizon Discovery on Tuesday 12th November to solve a murder and discover the exciting world of life science careers.

Students were welcomed onto the Cambridge Research Park, where they participated in several interactive activities and learned about some of the career and education pathways into the life sciences.

During the day students tried their hands at a number of techniques used daily by members of staff at Horizon Discovery. Teams from each school took a sample from the ‘crime scene’ and were tasked to run this through several procedures before analysing the result to find the ‘suspect’.

First, the students extracted the DNA from their sample. This sample was then amplified using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) – which allowed the DNA fragment to be copied, before mixing this DNA fragment with the CRISPR Cas9 enzyme, which in the presence of a certain base pair sequence cuts the double helix structure. The helpful Horizon Discovery volunteers in turn allowed the students to perform analysis and determine which of the suspects should be convicted.

Y10 Students from Swavesey Village College said: “It was good fun and a great learning experience because you get the chance to use equipment that you wouldn’t get to use otherwise at school.”

While the students were waiting for their results to process, they showcased their teamwork skills with a buzz quiz game about DNA. Throughout the day, students had the opportunity to meet several employees with life sciences background who are currently working at Horizon Discovery. These ambassadors explained how a variety of different pathways can lead to a career in STEM and spoke in detail about their roles within the company.

Julian Fox, Teacher of Science from Bottisham Village College, said: “An excellent opportunity for students to learn some of the processes that scientists have to go through to analyse DNA. A really enjoyable, well run day with excellent volunteers.”

Over the course of the day students were observed on their participation, understanding of the processes used in a lab, problem solving and teamwork. They were also marked on their presentation skills and how well they communicated with both peers and ambassadors. The winning team was Bottisham Village College, who will join Cambridge Launchpad for the end of year Award ceremony to be held in June.

Daniel Caley, Trainer from Horizon Discovery, said: “It has been really nice to see how keen and sharp the students have been during this project. Along with how excited about science and seeing the practical applications!”

Molly Askham, STEM Outreach Project Manager from Form the Future CIC, said: “Today it has been great to see each of the teams get so involved not only with the activities, but also in exploring more about the pathways into science careers. The team of ambassadors did a fantastic job at inspiring the group of students, 95% of whom were girls, to show that there is a huge variety of roles available in the industry.”

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