Evolution Explored Through DNA

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The library at Edmund W. Miles Middle School was transformed into a space for scientific discovery as eighth- and ninth-graders performed DNA analysis lab experiments using samples provided by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Over the course of two-days, students participated in DNA fingerprinting and executed comparative analysis to examine the skull of hominids.

To begin, students learned about forensic DNA fingerprinting and genetic diagnosis. For the experiment, they prepared a sample of their own DNA from cells obtained by saline mouthwash. The automated technique of polymerase chain reaction was used to amplify the DNA fragments and was analyzed by performing agarose gel electrophoresis. Students were able to trace their evolutionary track through mitochondrial DNA.

The following day, the library was converted into New York City’s Museum of National History laboratory as the young scientists used fossil evidence and DNA analysis to understand human evolution. Students measured the brain cases and features of different hominids to determine how closely they are related to humans. They also observed the earliest stone tool technologies to determine how early ancestors hunted and survived in their environment.

Students were able to determine the type of food source each hominid consumed, how they walked, bipedal or quadrupedal, bone structure and comparative evolutionary growth. They constructed an evolutionary tree to illustrate their findings.