Published March 10, 2017
Genome Day 2017 rated a big “thumbs up” from the nearly 400 eighth-graders, teachers, and civic and business leaders who gathered last Thursday on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC) to extract DNA from cells in their cheeks.
The experiment started by spitting into a cup, which was great, according to Tamara from PFC William J. Grabiarz School of Excellence School 79. “It’s cool to see my own spit in the tube.”
In addition to the DNA extraction, students tried to complete a karyotype to identify chromosomal differences, build an origami DNA model and identify genetic mutations by interpreting sequences from healthy cells and tumor cells.
Brian from Waterfront Elementary School School 95 said the experience was interesting. “I want to study chemistry or biology or even something like environmental stuff,” he said.
Organizers were delighted to hear these comments at the third annual Genome Day, part of a private/public partnership designed to intrigue students about STEM fields and encourage them to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
It was equally delightful for volunteer leaders like Aziz Shittu, a UB pre-med undergraduate. “I love teaching kids who are interested in science or technology or possibly considering the medical field,” Shittu said.
A first timer this year, Shittu joined more than 50 other graduate students, postdocs, researchers and faculty members from UB, UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences (CBLS) and Roswell Park Cancer Institute who consider Genome Day a compelling opportunity for getting out of the lab to mingle with younger students.
“This event offers students another opportunity for us to plant the seed of possible STEM careers and college,” said David Mauricio, chief of strategic alignment and innovation for the Buffalo Public Schools and an original BPS STEM Experience planning member. “It can help set them on the path for future success.”
The small-group workshops followed brief remarks by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who encouraged students to take advantage of what the schools have to offer, including events like Genome Day.
CBLS Executive Director Norma Nowak told the students she was a product of the Buffalo Public Schools and had used that education to start her biomedical technology business, Empire Genomics; become a faculty member in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and continue to pursue her research passion as a genomics pioneer and director of the CBLS.
Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash suggested the students embrace their passions and their talents. Cash also congratulated Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts 10th-grader Desanay Nalls, who was the winning student designer for bus-shelter posters.
Desanay referenced the movie “Hidden Figures,” based on the true story of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program, in challenging her peers. “I am no longer, you are no longer, we are no longer hidden in plain sight,” she said, noting that the students, like the women in the story, can persevere to a “future that is shaped by science, created by technology, taught by engineering and defined by math.”
Poster competition sponsors Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and Lamar Transit were among numerous Genome Day sponsors, including UB; CBLS; UB’s Genome, the Environment and the Microbiome (GEM) Community of Excellence; Roswell; the city of Buffalo; BNMC; Buffalo and Erie County Public Library; Buffalo Museum of Science; and the Buffalo Public Schools.
SUNY Trustee Eunice Lewin inspired the public/private partnership, facilitated through UB’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development.