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Extract DNA from berries at the Biodesign Institute Homecoming tent

Visit the Biodesign tent #W-414 before the Oct. 27 game, between 9 a.m. to noon

October 19, 2012

When children stop by the Biodesign Institute tent at the ASU Homecoming Block Party, volunteers will ask them if they have ever eaten strawberry DNA. In response, they will likely scrunch up their faces and shake their heads no. 

Of course, we have eaten DNA – whether plant or animal – we just don’t usually think of food in those terms. Food, like all living matter, is in fact bursting with DNA that serves as its life blueprint, making a strawberry very different from a steak. 

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“This DNA activity is a great way for us to make science real for kids and their parents,” said Jeanette Nangreave, tent volunteer and assistant research scientist in Biodesign Institute’s Center for Single Molecule Biophysics. “Some of our research at Biodesign is focused on DNA, so we hope that extracting DNA at our tent gives visitors an idea of what we do and some excitement about science.”

Scientists at the Biodesign Institute draw on the marvels of life to come up with discoveries to help solve global challenges, such as a fuel from bacteria or tests that detect early indicators of diseases, like cancer. Projects focus on making an impact on four areas: the immune system, early disease detection, sustainable systems, and security systems.

“In our research, we frequently extract DNA from human cells to discover if those cells are cancerous,” said Assistant Research Technologist and tent volunteer Kristen Lee, who works in Biodesign's Center for Biosignatures Discovery Automation. “Maybe this activity will stimulate enough interest so that these children can continue our research when they are older.”

Lab items from some of Biodesign’s research centers will be on hand for those interested in hearing about cutting-edge science at ASU. Some of Biodesign’s staff will be leading visitors in the block party’s Zone W through extracting DNA from strawberries.

The fruit will not be used to nourish the body, but the activity will stimulate the mind. Strawberries have eight copies of their seven chromosomes in each of their many cells, making them perfect for this experiment. 

Here’s how the activity works: 

First, children are given cut strawberries in a small baggie and are encouraged to squash it up between their fingers. Next, volunteers add a soapy solution to help break up the fruit’s cellular walls. Then, more strawberry squishing ensues, which makes the strawberry cells break down even further. This allows the fruit’s DNA to be accessible.  A dash of salt causes the cellular debris to bunch up. Next, juice from the red liquid is strained into a clear test tube, and a small amount of cold isopropyl alcohol tops off the concoction, causing the DNA to bunch together. Inserting a wooden stir stick pulls out ghostly white clump of DNA that is placed into a small plastic vial that, when closed, dangles from maroon- or gold-colored yarn, completing the genetic necklace. 

Visit the Biodesign tent (#W-414) at the ASU Homecoming Block Party before the game – from 9 a.m. to noon – on Saturday, Oct. 27. For more about homecoming, visit http://homecoming.asu.edu/.

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