WATSONVILLE — High school students in the biomedical engineering class at the Madonna Hill School in Watsonville recently conducted a gene-editing experiment using CRISPR technology under the guidance of Lisa Cattrall, a science and engineering teacher turned pharmaceutical researcher.
“Students have to know how the world works and where they fall when they step into it,” Catterall said. “This technology is going to be very important, whether or not they go on to do some of the biological research that kids do, they all Need to be an educated voter. They need to know when there is a moral issue and what the real story is.”
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR technology, allows scientists and high school students to locate specific segments of DNA or genes and edit them for a variety of outcomes, such as eliminating deadly genetic diseases like sickle cell anemia, or in Catterall Honors Science The case of a class 11 student, converting a lactose tolerance gene into an intolerance gene.
While a classroom experiment using cutting-edge gene-editing technology appears to include a room full of expensive specialized equipment, the experiment is simple and inexpensive, Catterall said.
“Ten years ago, it was very expensive to do any kind of genetic engineering,” Catroll said. “CRISPR is very, very simple.”
Supplies for gene-editing experiments are an off-the-shelf educational kit that costs about $150 and does require some extra equipment typically found in high school science labs, such as graduated cylinders, pipettes, and personal protective equipment.
In addition to learning and implementing scientific procedures related to gene editing, Catterall students discussed the ethical and philosophical implications of the technology’s potential applications.
“I’m not sure how I feel about using gene editing,” said student Cy Harris. “I do think it could be nice if it were used to eliminate diseases or genetic mutations that are detrimental to people’s quality of life.”
Junior Anya Gonzalez shares similar moral sentiments with her lab mates.
“CRISPR is a very controversial thing, and I think our ethics are behind the technology, so we have to decide where to draw the lines of gene editing,” said student Anya Gonzalez. “But I think if we can put the It would be amazing to use it for the greater good.”
Most students agree that the potential of this technology is both exciting and disturbing.
“There’s a lot of potential for better or worse, which is kind of scary,” said student Emma Monclus. “I don’t know how I feel about designing the perfect baby, but there’s a lot of potential to focus on preventing health problems.”
“CRISPR has two paths to go,” said student Ona Musoll-Buendia. “Some people want to use it to treat deadly genetic diseases, which is great, but some people want to create a super soldier without emotion and pain so they can keep fighting, which is simply not going to work.
For students like Sophia Manzur, the best part of the CRISPR lab is performing every step, from mixing the ingredients to streaking with bacteria.
“I’ve always enjoyed hands-on activities, and I love science and math,” says student Sophia Manzur. “I’m a tactile learner, so the whole experience was great.”
Although she may eventually choose to go into engineering, Erin Kavitsky, a junior high school student, says she is fascinated by CRISPR and its future implications.
“Before this class, I didn’t know much about CRISPR, which took my breath away,” said student Erin Kavitsky. “I think it’s really important for the younger generation to learn more about that, and I think it can even be taught to middle or high school students.”