CRISPR Gene Editing in High School Classrooms

CRISPR gene editing has become one of the most powerful tools in genetic research and treatment. Now, high schoolers are learning about it during their biotechnology classes.

Biotechnology Classes in High School

A growing number of high schools are offering their students biotechnology classes. These classes spend a term studying advancements in biotechnology, and they do so in a fairly comprehensive way. 

These classes not only cover the content of biotech advances, but they also discuss the associated ethics and career options. Some specialized public high schools have even initiated hands-on learning with actual CRISPR gene editing experiments.

Visualizing the structures and events occurring at a molecular level has its obvious challenges, especially when students don’t have any advanced chemistry or biology coursework completed. In order to convey the various visualizations, teachers have turned to mediums new and old. 3-D printed models and online animations are used alongside paper models and drawings.

CRISPR Gene Editing Explained to High Schoolers

At a high school level, CRISPR gene editing is explained in four distinct steps:

  1. Target: The biotechnology targets an RNA section that matches the DNA being edited.
  2. Bind: The Cas9 enzyme binds to a piece of DNA and temporarily unwinds it. A printed guide RNA is brought next to the DNA until the two match at the right section.
  3. Cut: Assuming the match is correct, the Cas9 enzyme cuts the double helix of the DNA.
  4. Edit: As machinery within the cell rushes to repair the broken DNA, the printed guide RNA is used as a model for which the DNA is repaired. The DNA is thus repaired to look like the guide RNA that’s desired.

3-D printing is highly useful when teachers explain the structures of these components. Online animation then shows the processes as instructors cover them.

Hands-On Experience Editing Bacteria

For an even more in-depth experience, CRISPR CR kits allow teachers to guide their students through actual gene editing of bacteria. Several teachers have commented that they themselves learn about the technology as they guide students through the tutorials.

As part of the hands-on kit, students learn basic laboratory skills such as pipetting. These are important skills when in college biology and chemistry classes, regardless of whether students are working with CRISPR gene editing or something else.

Going Beyond the Molecular 

For teachers, CRISPR gene editing isn’t just for learning about the latest technology in a fun way. It’s a gateway to discuss exciting opportunities within biotechnology narrowly and the physical sciences more broadly.

Gene editing is a natural launching pad for exploring career options, which is exactly what students should do as they’re considering college and major choices. The issue of ethics always arises in classrooms, which provides fertile ground for all manner of discussions about how science has been used in the past and could be in the future.

Furthermore, some teachers make the CRISPR gene editing even more personal by having students consider the implications for actual people who suffer from genetic illnesses. Many students know someone who does, and are moved as they think about what new gene editing technology might do for their friend’s or family member’s life.

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