Making biology fun and simple
GEBC's improvisation for the young
Beyond Life, Through Life
Unveiling the power of gene
Rim Sabrina Jahan Sarker
Mustak Ibn Ayub
"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny'...” This is the famous quote from the world famous sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov. So, when the science needs to be learnt by heart and made productive it should be funny and interesting. If the subject is of the most advanced branch of science like modern Biotechnology and the target people is only the school (or college) going students then it is even better to go in an informal way to reach their heart. This is what GEBC (Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Club) of Department of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, University of Dhaka is trying to do with the logistic help from British Council, Bangladesh and financial support of The ACME laboratories limited, Bangladesh. The three institutions jointly started a year-long programme named “Beyond Life Through Life, Unveiling the power of gene.” The aim of the programme is to let the young generation know what is going on in Biotechnology, the newly born branch of science. GEBC want to introduce them with the exciting happenings in this field. The whole program is planned in a very interesting way so that they can find it easy and catchy.
The school demonstration programme is going to be held once every month. Each programme will be attended by two schools. Each school can send at best 25 students.
On August 9, 2006 the successful opening of the programme was held in British Council, Dhaka and the first programme was attended by Maple Leaf School. Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Dhaka, Prof. A F M Yusuf Haider was the chief guest in the inaugural programme. Prof. Anwar Hossain, Dean Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Dhaka, Prof. Haseena Khan, chief patron of GEBC, and Mohammad Rafiqul Islam, Marketing Director of The ACME Laboratories Limited were present as the special guests in the programme. Dr. June Rollinson, Director British Council, Bangladesh presided over the session.
Through the first programme of GEBC: learning can be fun
The program held on 12th August was full of fun. The activities started with a multimedia presentation by a student of GEB. It was a tour deep inside of a cell that described the basic information on DNA as well as its utilisation in modern biotechnology and genetic engineering.
The presentation also gave an idea about genetic disorders like sickle cell anemia. It occurs when a person inherits two abnormal genes (one from each parent) that cause their red blood cells to change shape. Instead of being flexible and round, these cells are more rigid and curved in the shape of the farm tool known as a sickle - that's where the disease gets its name.
These sickle cells can clog blood vessels and deprive the body's tissues and organs of the oxygen they need to stay healthy. DNA unfolds the story of life. How do the players (different genes) in the story interact with each other was mind blowing. It simply took everyone's breath away.
They found the DNA, dancing !
In the second segment of the programme, there was a “hands-on” activity for the students. It was a cool opportunity for students to understand the physical nature of DNA. They did a simple version of DNA isolation process. Because of its size, it is impossible to see a single DNA molecule with the naked eyes. It would take millions of molecules side by side to make it visible. That is what we tried to show them-visible DNA. Students were given banana to extract its genetic material so that they can realize, yes there IS something called DNA inside the cell. First they smashed the banana with mortal-pestle and then filtered the smashed banana. To the extract they added a chemical reagent called isopropanol. Its function was to precipitate the DNA. They got excited when a cloud of DNA appeared in the mid region of their transparent glass cylinders. A big smile was on everyone's face as if they actually discovered something. Well, that was the main catch! We tried to make them feel like a scientist and hell yeah, we did it quite well!
The third part of the activity was even colorful. Four stalls were decorated with big bright posters and pictures. Each stall was distinct from another with respect of get ups and subjects.
“Changing the face of life” was the key focus of one of the stalls. GEB students tried to give an overview of the application of biotechnology in forensics, medication and industry. DNA is especially pertinent in today's society because of the rising use of it as evidence in court cases. The forensic DNA is used in determining parenthood of disputed children and most importantly in establishing the identity of a homicide victim, either from DNA from blood, hair, skin cells or semen found as evidence or from the body itself.
Gene therapy is a great promise to cure cancer and so many genetic disorders. This is going to bring a revolution in medication process of diseases that are difficult to fight in conventional way.
The industrial biotechnology is providing with alternative solutions to costly modern day problems. Cellulose derived biofuel will be environment friendly and cheap; enzymatically produced high quality detergent is going to take place of the chemically produced industrial detergent. Anti aging biotech serum and vitamin rich cosmetics will eliminate the probabilities of skin cancers.
The slogan of the GM food stall was “GM food: Feeding the future”. They talked about the production of genetically modified crops and their uses. They talked about the famous “Golden rice” and described how this exclusively vitamin A rich rice can prevent night blindness. Salinity and draught tolerant crops and transgenic tobacco plants were also their concerns. But they did not forget to deal with the ethical issues. They pointed the unintended impacts on environment, health, and markets. More or less they gave the student an idea of both the good side and bad side of GM crops. If the limitations could be overcome, they assured that it is the GM food that will feed the mankind in near future.
One of the most talked about topics of recent days is “cloning”. “Cloning: Shaping our future” was the theme of another stall. They went into the detail of cloning process and talked about the famous “personality”- Dolly the sheep. The school students were quite absorbed in this stall, listening spellbound. Cloning can be fun but just imagine a clone of Einstein or a Hitler. Would that Einstein be intelligent like the original one or would he be prefer a violin to the theory of relativity? Or would that Hitler be the opposite of his nature? How will people react to the clones? Students in the stall also focused on ethical questions. Science really takes our imagination beyond the boundaries.
The position of Bangladesh in Biotechnology is a major issue today. The government has just approved the new biotechnology policy. So there are a lot of things the young biotechnologists can do here. So GEB students in “Biotechnology: Bangladesh Perspectives” stall tried to present a bright future of biotechnology in our country. They informed the school students about the recently established DNA lab in Dhaka Medical College Hospital and how it can help in solving the crime cases. They hoped that soon National Institute of Biotechnology of Bangladesh would begin their activities. Bangladesh Rice Research Institute has been doing research to improve rice quality. Our soil is fertile, our manpower is cheap and available and our environmental resources are not so poor either. So all we need is a strong infrastructure. Their confidence convinced the young people from schools that we can really do something great in our country.
Last but not least, students took part in a funny puzzle game. They were shown a model on the screen for once and they had to make it with some colored blocks. A goes with T and C pairs with G. The kids constructed the model within a very short time. Smart indeed!
The future begins here........
This is just the end of a beginning. Eleven more programmes are on our schedule. Lots of schools have already signed in their names. Hang on guys, your school might be the next. We are ready to welcome you all into the world of biotech marvels. Hope you will enjoy this journey to the center of life science.
(Both the writers are from the Dept. of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Dhaka University)
DNA isolation: Ishtiaque rashid
A.M. Mahedi hasan
Multi media presentation: Nusrat Sharmeen
Stall: Changing the face of life: S.M. Mahbubur Rashid
Rim Sabrina Jahan Sarker
Stall: GM food: feeding the future: Mahdi M. Moosa
Himel Nahreen Khaleque
Stall: Cloning: Shaping our future: Waise Quarni
Bangladesh Perspective: Salim Ahmed
DNA puzzle: Ashraful Islam Bhuyan
` (President, GEBC)
Program Co- ordination : Nadim Ashraf, Mustak Ibn Ayub
(R) thedailystar.net 2006