Dna Fingerprinting Class Teaches UB Students to Finger A Killer

Release Date: August 9, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Results of DNA testing in the O.J. Simpson murder trial may not be revealed for weeks, but on Wednesday, Aug. 10, students in a University at Buffalo biology course will be using models of such tests to "convict" a murderer in a hypothetical case.

From 10:15-11 a.m., teams of students in the Scientific Inquiry course in 127 Cooke Hall on the UB North (Amherst) Campus will construct colorful bead models of DNA based on "evidence" they are given as the clues in this case. By the time class ends on Wednesday morning, each team will know "whodunit."

"This models exactly the same technology that will be used in the Simpson case," said Clyde F. Herreid, Ph.D., distinguished teaching professor of biological sciences at UB and course instructor.

Each team will begin with large piles of beads of different colors, with each color representing a different kind of molecule. For example, reds are phosphates, whites are sugars.

Each team also will be given information on the genetic code of a suspect. Genetic code information is typically isolated from blood samples found at crime scenes.

Based on that information, the students will string together chains of beads, one of which will ultimately represent the killer's DNA "fingerprint."

The completed DNA models will be about one and a half feet long.

To identify the killer, the students will then match the DNA pattern they have constructed with DNA from one of five suspects in the case.

To set the stage for the DNA fingerprint exercise, each team first gathered information on the Simpson case and wrote a synopsis.

The course is an example of the teaching of science through case studies, an approach developed by Herreid and UB colleagues.

"Part of the strength of the case method is that it relates to real events," said Herreid.

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