Since 2010, NOAA has sponsored a Teacher in the Lab program at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC). Teacher in the Lab, which is an offshoot of NOAA's popular Teacher at Sea Program, gives classroom teachers an opportunity to work side-by-side with NOAA scientists in a research laboratory to learn or refine skills that can later be passed on to students.
The 2-3 week summer program brings high school teachers into the genetics laboratory at the NWFSC's Mukilteo Research Station. Here, NOAA researchers introduce teachers to conservation genetic research as it applies to marine species in the Salish Sea ecosystem.
During the summer, teachers learn how to extract, amplify, and process DNA from tissue samples and analyze population genetics data with sophisticated software. Teachers also receive a high school curriculum that focuses on the population genetics of a Salish Sea organism.
In the subsequent school year, the teachers and their students conduct their own mini population genetic survey in their classrooms: they isolate DNA from tissue samples and use Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to make copies of DNA, which they send to the NOAA lab for analysis on a gene sequencer. Scientists send back raw, unscored data that the students interpret to construct genetic tree diagrams. Since each classroom has unique data, they can compare with other classes to discover and describe population-level variation. NOAA scientists verify the student data that then becomes part of a genetic inventory of Salish Sea marine life.
This inventory is a powerful tool NOAA can use to monitor species and their populations in marine habitats and predict how species might respond to changes in their environment.
If you are interested in participating in the Teacher in the Lab Program, please contact Dr. Gary Winans at Gary.Winans@noaa.gov or (206) 860-3265.