• Collaborating with Dr. Carolyn Adler of Cornell University once again, TCCC BIOL105/AP Biology students at Whitesboro High School were able to partake in an experiment involving two types of technology rarely used in high school classrooms: RNA interference (RNAi) and scanning electron microscopy.

    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 allows planaria to regenerate amputated body tissue. If a planarian has its head amputated, it can regenerate a new one (as well as 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 the select 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. With a specific gene blocked, planaria regenerated only heads at the site of a cut.

    Immediately after the planaria regenerated tissues, organisms were then fixed for viewing under the scanning electron microscope. Newly healed tissue could be compared to unharmed body tissue with technology that magnified the specimen 10 times higher than the typical light microscopes found in high school classrooms. In the words of BIOL105 teacher Mr.  Ryan, “There may be students in the state using RNAi and a few in the country using an SEM, but no students are using both of these technologies in the same class.”

    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, Tompkins Cortland Community College, and to Principal Mr. Jeff Kuhn for arranging these opportunities to be accessible to Whitesboro High School students. For more information on Dr. Adler’s work, please visit https://adlerlab.vet.cornell.edu.