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Science Buddies Blog: September 2011 Archives

New Biotechnology Areas: Medical Biotechnology and Biotechnology Techniques

screens-biotech.pngScience Buddies new Medical Biotechnology and Biotechnology Techniques areas

At Science Buddies, we find the diversity of science and engineering a constant source of excitement and inspiration. With over 30 areas of science represented in our library of Project Ideas, we encourage students (like you!) to explore areas of science that range from traditional subjects like chemistry and physics to newer areas like environmental engineering and biotechnology.

Newton's Laws and Einstein's Theories are still around, but every day, new discoveries are made, new questions are asked, innovative approaches are put to the test, and data is analyzed. It can seem hard to keep up! But the fact that things change every day in science means science is always fresh and full of potential for you to get involved, to tackle a hands-on project, and to investigate the nitty-gritty about emerging areas of science and engineering.

Science Buddies' scientist-authored Project Ideas help you get started exploring the same kinds of hot and important questions that researchers are investigating today—and there is plenty of opportunity for you to make your own discoveries and to design innovative investigations!

One really exciting area of science that students today have the opportunity to explore is biotechnology.

Splitting "Biotech"

To support the overwhelming growth of biotechnology, we are separating the "Biotechnology" area of our Project Ideas library into two areas: Medical Biotechnology and Biotechnology Techniques. Both areas share biotechnology as a foundation, but the "goals" of the projects in each area differ. Students interested in focused research projects with a medical or pharmaceutical slant will find guidance in Medical Biotechnology projects. Students interested in learning the nuts and bolts of biotechnology research, procedures, and practices that can then be applied to other questions and projects, can explore biotechnology fundamentals in Biotechnology Techniques projects.

Learning the "Techniques"

Projects in the Biotechnology Techniques area are specifically designed to help students gain an understanding of techniques and procedures used in biotechnology projects and research. These projects focus on equipment, devices, or procedures common to biotechnology research and exploration. In other words, in this area, you'll learn more about equipment and materials that are part of a biotechnologist's "toolkit." In some cases, you can even make your own cutting-edge biotech equipment—which you can then put to use in other science experiments! The following Project Ideas are examples of the kinds of Project Ideas students can explore in the new Biotechnology Techniques area:

  • Forensic Science: Building Your Own Tool for Identifying DNA: Gel electrophoresis is the process of separating macromolecules by loading the molecules in a gel and then applying an electric current. This is a common technique in biotechnology, and understanding how gel electrophoresis works can open up many areas of study—including forensics! But a gel electrophoresis chamber is a specialized piece of equipment. In this project, we show you how to build your own gel electrophoresis chamber and then put it to use by testing the composition of food coloring. (Pssst: Our 2011 Summer Science Fellows made a video demonstrating this project.)
  • Who Done It? DNA Fingerprinting and Forensics: Students can learn more about the application of biotechnology (and the use of gel electrophoresis) in this forensics project when they use restriction enzymes to help match up DNA samples to a fictitious crime scene.

Science projects in the new Biotechnology Techniques area might also explore topics like using genetic engineering techniques to isolate or manipulate DNA or to make bacteria glow.

Biotechnology and Medicine

Projects in the Medical Biotechnology area let students get involved in testing and exploring the kinds of medical questions that the pharmaceutical industry is investigating. Projects in this area let students explore the ways in which medicines are researched, tested, and evolved. Students can also experiment with questions related to using medicines to treat genetic diseases, targeting specific organ systems with specific medications, personal genomics, and more. For example, the following Project Idea is part of the Medical Biotechnology area:

  • I Love Ice Cream, But It Doesn't Love Me: Can't eat ice cream? Can't drink milk? Did you realize that your body stops making the enzyme you need to process dairy products around the age of two? In this science project, students can investigate what it really means, on a biological level, when you say someone is "lactose intolerant." By learning more about lactase (an important enzyme) and glucose (a reaction product), students can simulate lactose intolerance, letting them better understand what happens inside the body of someone who is lactose intolerant.

Thanks to Our Sponsors

Biotechnology projects and resources on the Science Buddies website have been developed for many years thanks to support from Bio-Rad and its Biotechnology Explorer program. As we continue to develop materials for the biotechnology areas of Science Buddies, Bio-Rad will continue to support development of Biotechnology Techniques resources and Project Ideas. Support from the Amgen Foundation will help further develop and expand the new Medical Biotechnology interest area.

Amgen logo Bio-Radlogo

As always, we are grateful for the support of our sponsors!

Science Buddies 2011 Webinar for Educators Available at YouTube

Were you unable to attend our September 2011 webinar for educators? No problem! You can watch a video recording of the entire webinar (about an hour) when it's convenient for you.

Our Science Buddies channel at YouTube contains other great videos you and your students may enjoy. Did you miss the project demonstration videos created by our Summer Science Fellows? Be sure and check those out, too!

Introducing Project Idea "Kits"


Many of the Project Ideas in the Science Buddies library enable science exploration with common materials, ones you might find around the house. Some projects, however, require an assortment of materials, not all of which can be obtained in a single stop at a local store. Plus, for a single science project, you may only need a small amount of a product, not a full roll or bottle. While we offer links to online sources for many specialty items, we are excited to announce the availability of "kits" for some of our popular Project Ideas.

When you order a Science Buddies kit through the AquaPhoenix Education website, you'll receive everything you need to perform the experiment—except perishables (like orange juice).

The items included in each kit are detailed on the AquaPhoenix Education website, and when you open the kit box, you'll find items carefully labeled for easy identification. We hope you find that this new approach to ordering supplies for a science project makes the process easy and convenient so you can spend more time on the science—and less on the shopping.

Kits are currently available for the following Project Ideas:

Note: 10% of the kit purchase price goes to support Science Buddies.


Color-Soaked Bugs: Color Sense in Insects


Dr. Mohamed Babu, India, turned thirsty garden ants into a cool series of photos and an interesting hands-on look at color sense and insects.

You've heard of being caught red-handed? The brightly colored abdomens of the bugs in a series of photos taken by Dr. Mohamed Babu (Mysore, India) leave little doubt as to which colors of sugared water the translucent-bellied ants in his garden had been sipping. Reportedly, his wife noticed that the ants turned white when they sucked up some spilled milk, which gave him the idea for this colorful garden science experiment—and photo opportunity.

The images of the 'technicolor' ants are striking, but there's plenty of room here for further student exploration! The photos Dr. Babu took, and his observations as to which colors the ants clearly preferred, leave a colorful trail for student research into color-preference among animals and insects.

Color Sense: Aesthetics or Survival?

In the wild, 'color' provides a lot of information. Some colors are perceived to indicate something safe. Other colors signal danger or poison. Some species, in fact, have certain colorful exteriors that warn others away: don't eat that brightly colored frog, it is poisonous! And when a blue-tongued skink sticks out its tongue, predators perceive "danger" and run away! (Keep in mind that most animals and insects don't see color the same way humans do, but they still process "color" information.)

Making Connections

Students intrigued by the way the ants' bodies visibly soaked up the color in Dr. Babu's photos, might experiment with local ants to see if they have similarly translucent body parts. (Or try a variety of "clear" mite.) Or, as part of a controlled exploration, students might replicate the process Dr. Babu used to see if local ants demonstrate similar color preference. His ants, for example, notably preferred two of the four colors of sugared water he made available.

Other science projects that could be explored for a color-sense science project include:

  • Do Milkweed Bugs Show a Color Preference for Egg-Laying Sites?: The brightly colored exterior of a milkweed bug may warn predators that it "tastes" bad because of the toxic sap it slurps from milkweed plants. In this project, students explore whether or not the color of the milkweed plant matters to the bugs when they select a site for egg-laying.
  • How Sweet It Is! Explore the Roles of Color and Sugar Content in Hummingbirds' Food Preferences: If you feed hummingbirds, or know someone who does, you probably know that there is a specific color commonly used for kitchen-brewed, sugary hummingbird food. Is the color alone enough to make a hummingbird choose one solution over another? In this project, students ask, "what is more important... the color of the solution or the amount of sugar it contains?"
  • Perfect Plating: Which Food Presentation Technique is Best?*: Humans, too, evaluate food based on color. We know, for example, that plates of food that contain green or orange are likely to be more nutrient-packed than plates of food that are all white. But even beyond our knowledge of vitamins, we may "respond" to foods based on color. This cooking and food science project encourages exploration of how "presentation" affects response to food. While this project looks at what might be considered "serious" cooking, if you are around small children, you might ask... does changing the color of the food change the chance that they'll eat it?

A 'Closer' Look
If colored ants don't give you the creepy crawlies, you might enjoy seeing this wonderful series of seriously zoomed-in insect photos by Stephen Gschmeissner!

(Science Buddies Project Ideas in the area of zoology are sponsored by Medtronic Foundation.)

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