By: Micayla Kinder
Each year April 25 marks National DNA Day, which commemorates the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and marks the discovery of DNA's double helix in 1953. The UF Genetics Institute celebrated National DNA Day last month by sending young scientists to different schools around the state to talk about DNA and engage with students in innovative workshops.
The goal of National DNA Day is to offer students, teachers and the public an opportunity to learn about and celebrate the latest advances in genomic research and explore how those advances impact their lives. Dr. Peter DiGennaro, an assistant professor in molecular plant nematology, orchestrates DNA Day at UF and helped establish the program here.
“I was first introduced to DNA Day during my time as a graduate student in North Carolina,” DiGennaro said. “As an ambassador in this program, I was thrilled to see the level of university and high school engagement. This program helped solidify my passion for outreach and focused my teaching philosophies.”
Inspired by the need to reach rural high schools in Florida, DiGennaro spearheaded the program and each year connects ambassadors with public schools to help inspire and inform today’s youth. Student and postdoc ambassadors are sent out from UF to schools throughout the state participating in DNA Day.
“One of the main goals of UF DNA Day is to nurture a desire for service and outreach in our young scientist ambassadors,” DiGenarro said. “This helps build relationships between UF and public classrooms that can illuminate new paths for high school students to get engaged in the sciences.”
Post Doc researcher Dr. Churamani Khanal was one of the ambassadors to participate in DNA Day this year.
“I routinely extract DNA from plant parasitic nematodes to identify them at species level, and as a scientist who has been working to protect agricultural crops from plant parasitic nematodes, I wanted to inspire high school students about scientific research and its importance,” Khanal said. “I thought it would be really interesting to show students how DNA is extracted and how the information from extracted DNA is used in forensics.”
Khanal said the experience was very rewarding and that he loved getting to introduce these young students to the many fascinating aspects of DNA.
“The students told us they had never extracted DNA before and that this was the first time they saw their own DNA,” Khanal said. “They were very excited to see DNA extracted from their saliva using the DNA extraction kits we provided.
Ambassadors teach various DNA modules in the classroom, including some on DNA repair and forensics.
PhD student Gurleen Kaur volunteered to be an ambassador for the second time and she explained why she believes outreach events like DNA Day are so important.