We recently reported on the visit to our labs by Dr Aki Minoda, a group leader at RIKEN research institute, mentioning that Dr Minoda was a very active supporter of the Science Department. Today we are delighted to report that thanks to her help, the Biology lab is on its way to conduct a new and very exciting range of experiments.
Of all the subjects taught at Saint Maur, Biology is probably one of the most changing, with constant new advances in the fields such as human health, genetics, bioinformatics and of course, environmental science that have to be included in the various syllabi. For instance, a major curriculum update is actually coming up in IB Biology and it will be implemented in less than two years.
While this makes the Biology teaching at Saint Maur extremely robust and ensures that our students are well armed to tackle the demands of an ever more complex world, it is a constant struggle for us to find ways to offer our students not only theoretical, but perhaps more importantly, practical experiences that match recent advances and help them to consolidate their understanding. Those initiatives require a certain skill set on behalf of our teachers, but also funding.
To give an indication of the challenges we face, presently, the topics of Molecular Biology and Genetics occupy almost 40% of the recommended teaching time, and more than that in classes such as our higher level group who opt to cover the Biotechnology and Bioinformatics option. Clearly most of this content must remain theoretical in most schools, due to either a lack of facilities, equipment, or skilled supervision.
We are very fortunate since we benefited from the construction of a dedicated Science Center back in 2011, as well as from the help of the Saint Maur Parents Support Group, who funded the purchase of several pieces of equipment such as a water distiller, an autoclave and an orbital incubator, which allowed us, with the help of a number of motivated pionering students to include microbiology experiments as part of our core IB experience.
Miyu Shu, a graduate from the class of 2016 helped develop and optimize the bacterial protocols that we use routinely in the lab nowadays.
Today, thanks to Dr Minoda and RIKEN, we are on the verge of another major advance in our ability to cover those subjects practically. Arrangements have been made so that RIKEN research institute was able to donate to our school a large amount of scientific research equipment and consumables, ranging from micropipettes able to dispense volumes of less than a 100th of a milliliter, large amounts of sterile tubes and plates, several DNA gel electrophoresis tanks, U.V. transilluminators, and not one, but three thermocyclers.
A set of micropipettes that can dispense volumes as low as 1 microliter. One of those was actually used in the research that led to the revolutionary SmartAmp coronavirus testing protocol.
What this means is that we will soon be in a capacity to conduct DNA analysis experiments, including polymerase chain reactions, which most people will recognize by its abbreviated name: PCR!
The next steps will now be for us to fund the purchase of the reagents necessary for DNA amplification and analysis, but the project is on solid tracks and it is no longer a matter of if, but rather, when we will be able to implement that work routinely in our lab. Like for all methods, it is their adoption and optimization by some of our pioneering students that will allow all subsequent generations to benefit from them.
Celine Michel, a graduate of the 2017 class first introduced the use of Petrifilms in our lab setup, which has been tremendously helpful for IB students in terms of conducting safe and exciting microbiological experiments.
We are very excited to see which students will take ownership of those new possibilities and help us make them an integral part of our learning experience. We would like to thank Dr Minoda and RIKEN once again for their unfailing support through the years and especially, for their very generous donation.
Set of three PCR machines donated by RIKEN to our school.