TCCC BIOL105/AP Bio Students Investigate RNAi
Partnering with Dr. Carolyn Adler of Cornell University, TCCC BIOL105/AP Bio students at Whitesboro Senior High were able to partake in an experiment involving a biotechnology rarely used in high school classrooms. Mr. Ryan’s students studied the effect of RNAi (or RNA interference) on planaria. Planaria are small flatworms whose bodies consist of a large number of stem cells (almost 20%). The abundance of stem cells allow planaria to regenerate amputated body tissue. If a planarian has its head amputated, it can regenerate a new one (as well as regenerate a tail from the severed head).
Though flatworms have been a staple of high school biology classroom for decades, working with RNAi is a rarity. Whitesboro is only one of six schools in the state that are implementing this technology. RNAi is a process that suppresses certain genes by targeting specific RNA sequences for their destruction – therefore “silencing,” or shutting off, the gene.
The gene that Whitesboro students targeted was B-catenin. B-catenin is a gene present in all animals and functions to produce a “tail end.” With this gene blocked, planaria that were cut regenerated heads at the site of the wound – thus causing multi-headed worms to be regenerated. In order for flatworms to obtain the RNAi, it was incorporated into a food source (the food was dyed so that it could be visible in the body once ingested) and fed to the planaria on two occasions.
The experiment was a complete success and Mr. Ryan’s students obtained phenomenal results as many of the planaria grew two or more heads. Special thanks to Dr. Carolyn Adler of Cornell University and to Tompkins Cortland Community College for arranging the professional development necessary to introduce this technology into high school classrooms. For more information on Dr. Adler’s work, please visit https://adlerlab.vet.cornell.edu