21st century science comes to the Amity Regional Schools

Biology students in the Amity Regional School System had an opportunity to delve into genetic engineering last week when Biobus visited the campuses. Modeled after a Boston University School of Medicine City Laboratory program, the Biobus is one of only three in the country.

The 40-foot mobile learning unit is outfitted with state-of-the-art computers and laboratory stations for hands on learning, and is staffed with three scientists who work in rotations of two to supervise the student experiments. Local scientists are sometimes invited as well.

Amity students were able to use a technique called gel eletrophoresis to separate DNA. Some groups looked at sickle cell anemia cells, others inserted a gene for green florescent protein into bacteria and still others experimented with DNA fingerprinting.

According to staff scientist Tom Wolverton, Connecticut Biobus was conceived when Farmington teacher Carol Scales brought the Boston mobile lab to her school. She invited local politicians and representatives of CURE, a not-for-profit statewide coalition, who thought the clinical learning laboratory was a good idea. CURE and Connecticut Innovations, a high technology investing firm, along with 27 other organizations put together the financing.

One of the goals of the program is to excite youngsters about science and encourage them to consider careers in the field. Amity student Jessica Mascia was enthusiastic about her experience aboard the bus.

"I learned the sickle cell anemia test," she said, "we don't normally do tests like this."

Amity's School-to-Careers Program brought the mobile lab, which will visit 68 schools throughout Connecticut this year, to the local campuses.

Judy Tierney