St. Joseph-Ogden biology students get lowdown on nanotechnology

St. Joseph-Ogden biology students get lowdown on nanotechnology

ST. JOSEPH – St. Joseph-Ogden High School Biology students are learning about cutting edge technology.

The students in Brad Allen's Biology II class spent time this month learning about nanotechnology.

They studied "nanoscale chemical-electrical-mechanical manufacturing systems," Allen said.

"This kind of research addresses a central problem in the development of nanotechnology: how to assemble structures at sizes smaller than can be seen and manipulated," Allen said. "Making three-dimensional, nanoscale devices and systems from millions to trillions of different types of molecules is incredibly difficult."

The students constructed DNA aptamers that were combined with nano particles of gold attached to short segments of DNA.

The aptamers will act as biosensors or color indicators for things that are normally very difficult to detect at low levels.

"We were specifically using an aptamer or strand of DNA that can wrap itself around an adenosine molecule," Allen said. "This same technology is being used to detect pollutants in water, anthrax (bioterrorism), certain proteins associated with cancer and it is also being developed as a technique in delivering chemotherapy drugs specifically to cancer cells."

Joe Muskin, the education coordinator for the UI Center for Nanoscale Chemical-Electrical-Mechanical Manufacturing Systems, helped Allen with the class.

"The research is very cutting edge and the concepts are so new they are not covered yet in even college courses, but the technology holds such hope and offers such new opportunities that the field is expanding very rapidly," Muskin said.

Muskin said the technology can be used for cancer detection and to identify lead in water.

"Now we have a quick and easy test," he said. "We can find out within five minutes if there is lead in water."

Muskin said having a test for small molecules was important and it allowed scientist a new way to detect and manipulate cells.

"These new discoveries and technologies showcased in today's activity likely will be among the important new scientific developments that drastically change our lives in profound ways," he said.

Allen said while the technology isn't even being taught to college students yet, he felt it was valuable for SJO students.

"Sometimes our curriculum gets caught up in only driving home content when we are missing a wonderful opportunity for our students to have real world, cutting edge applications in developing their scientific thinking skills and understanding the processes of science, he said. "The students are actually studying an unit on evolutionary theory but there is no better way to do that then studying genetics."

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