Biology Enrichment students head to Rothamsted Research!

In February, the team of Biology Enrichment students visited Rothamsted Research to extract the DNA from the Snowdrop samples that they previously gathered.

Students head to Rothamsted Research to extract Snowdrop DNA

After collecting a sample of snowdrop leaves from Anglesey Abbey, the team of Biology Enrichment students returned to Hills Road to prepare for the next step of their adventure.

These students, who have been supervised by Dr Karen Stephens, are attempting to discover how different snowdrop species have evolved from a common ancestor. In doing so, they hope to publish a seminal work on the snowdrop’s ‘family tree’.

This project has been a gigantic collaboration between Hills Road students and staff, Anglesey Abbey, EMBL-EBI, Rothamsted Research, Bedford School and made possible by the Royal Society’s partnership grant.

In February, the group visited Rothamsted Research to extract the DNA from the Snowdrop samples that they previously gathered.

Students paired up and were tasked with tagging and then distinguishing the different samples. They then used a special portable device, called a Minlon, to determine the order of nucleotides in the molecule. This would then be attached to a computer, which uses a highly specialised program to complete this calculation. The results will enable the group to see how similar the sequences are between different types of Snowdrops and if the plants are related or not.

During this process, the students were supported by several incredible scientists and technicians who provided advice on how to use the scientific equipment, computer software, and the theory behind their experiment and even informed them about the history of Rothamsted Research.

The next step in this scientific journey is to use virtual machines to determine the relatedness of the species by looking at the differences in the sequences. Students will then create a phylogenetic tree, which will show a common ancestor, by using the results they have gathered. This step will be guided by Dr Sarah Dyer from EMBL-EBI.

Congratulations to all the students who attended this trip. What an incredible experience you’ve had! It’s been amazing to see how far you’ve come in this process and to hear about all the things you’ve learned. We can’t wait to hear the results of this project.

The Molecular Biology concepts that we were presented with were quite challenging and thought-provoking. It was an amazing opportunity to go beyond the Biology curriculum. Now I can prepare DNA for sequencing and understand the science behind it!

Nazarii Utkin