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Following on from the successful workshop of last October, on 14th March 2019 another group of six mixed-background researchers from the Knight group (Andrew, Andy, Carla, Lauren, Justin, Yuxin) held the second DNA manipulation and bioinformatics workshop at Abingdon School as part of the Abingdon Science Partnership. Twenty-seven Year 12/13 students from Abingdon School and Fitzharrys School came together to have hands-on experience on basic molecular biology experiments, whilst at the same time having a glimpse into the frontiers of human genetics studies and what science careers are like through interspersed talks.

As in the last workshop , the practical side of the workshop was designed for the students to understand molecular biology techniques through PCR amplification of DNA sequence and enzymatic digestion of the PCR product. On the day every group successfully observed the expected DNA products using gel electrophoresis.

While the PCR reactions were taking place, Andrew and Lauren gave a talk on gene editing and the ethics of applying this technique in medical science. This brought about the concept of “dangerous knowledge” and raised an active discussion during the workshop on what are the things you want to consider before getting your genome sequenced. When research-changing techniques come to generate real social impact, there is so much more to think about other than the science itself.

In the last session of the day, students tried to reconstruct how a message was disseminated through nine people by calculating the similarity between messages received. This whispering game was designed to illustrate with a simple example the bioinformatics principle underlying the deciphering of disease transmission through pathogen sequencing during an epidemic outbreak such as SARS. 

The Knight group really enjoyed the day doing science and talking about it with students and their teachers.