MONROE — Forty-eight high school students from Monroe to Marrero got hands-on experience in the diverse field of molecular biology as part of a summer research program at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
The program, in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is held each June at ULM.
“It’s fun,” said Dakoda Albritton, a 16-year-old student from Franklin Parish High School. “I get to do stuff here I would never get to do at my normal school.”
Participants spent time working on various projects, each centering on one of four different subject matters — protein, DNA, genetically modified organisms and bioinformatics, which is the application of computer technology to the analysis of biological information.
“Science literacy is basically the goal of what we’re trying to achieve,” said Ann Findley, a professor of biology and director of ULM’s HHMI program. “By the end of the two-week period, they get a really integrated approach of why all of these pieces are tied together.”
Findley said each project is conducted in a fun and engaging manner so participants can understand the real-world applications of the activities.
For example, one group of participants was charged with analyzing a mock crime scene. Students were given an unknown DNA sample and information on five suspects, and they had to decide whose DNA matched up with the crime.
Another group was learning to identify genetically modified foods based on their DNA.
Jordan Sanders, a 16-year-old participant from Neville High School, was among a group of students who were isolating protein and watching it glow green under an ultraviolet light.
Sanders said she signed up for the program because she was interested in expanding her science studies and wanted to get hands-on experience in a lab.
“I really like it,” she said. “We get to learn things I haven’t learned before.”
ULM has formed partnerships with the school systems of Catahoula Parish, Concordia Parish, East Carroll Parish, Monroe City, Morehouse Parish, Ouachita Parish and Richland Parish to ensure students from the Delta parishes of northeast Louisiana were involved in the program, but students from any high school in Louisiana were encouraged to apply.
Findley said the participant who traveled the farthest is from Marrero.
The program is many participants’ first chance to work in a laboratory, Findley said.
“This area of the country doesn’t have the best resources to do this kind of science in the high school classroom, so we’re providing an enrichment opportunity for these students,” she said.