Genes, Genomes, and GMOs

By Diana Trujillo

On June 25, we had a session about the code underlying all living things: DNA! The purpose of the Genes, Genomes, and GMOs session was to demystify DNA and genetics for market goers.

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Using commonly available items such as coffee filters, soap, salt and rubbing alcohol, kids and adults alike had great fun extracting DNA from strawberries. We learned that the “stringy white stuff”, aka DNA, contains genes, which determine strawberries’ shape, color, taste, and growth habit!

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That string is an accumulation of DNA extracted from a strawberry!

In order to look at DNA more in depth, another activity was DNA origami. We put our folding skills to the test, creating a spiral staircase that depicts the double helix structure of DNA. These two anti-parallel strands contain complementary information which allows the sequence to reliably be copied and passed down from one generation to the next. Want to recreate the human genome using DNA origami? Great, only 3 billion more to go!

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A very small section of DNA. We have over 3 billion base-pairs (the single letters connected to one another across the helix) in our human DNA!

For those wondering how it all comes together, we used a poster to show that DNA strands are coiled many times in order to be packaged into cells, and that the collection of all the genetic information in one cell constitutes a genome. The genes within a genome have natural variations among individuals, such as tall vs. small plants or red vs. yellow fruits. For thousands of years, humans have unknowingly selected the very best gene variants during the course of a crop’s domestication.

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Newer technologies allow us to make targeted changes to genomes, such as the disruption of a gene, or introduction of new genes. The result? Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. In one final activity, Erik showed us which produce items currently on the market are genetically modified, and explained which ones will be available in coming months.

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Erik Solhaug, a University of Minnesota graduate student, shows off a mix of crops in a GMO guessing game.

 

 

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