UTPA Regional Biotech laboratory program successful after first semester
Posted: 01/28/2003
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After just one semester, The University of Texas-Pan American Regional Biotech laboratory program has helped more than 1,000 high school and middle school students from the Rio Grande Valley learn about biotechnology through laboratory courses.

Lab Instructor Sebastian Duque gives directions on how to use equipment to students from the Science Academy.

The program was developed to stimulate student interest in health-related fields by providing adequate resources such as laboratory equipment and experimental courses to students from across the Valley.

"This program offers the Valley and its students a first-hand look at the current laboratory methods in biotechnology and its vast opportunities encompassing forensics, clinical and research lab methods," said Sebastian Duque, bioscience education coordinator.

"The program also opens a pipeline for communication between public school science teachers and the University."

Participation in the program is open to any student, school district and even home school groups. Teachers interested in bringing their classes can participate in a pre-lab training session that includes safety instructions and basic concepts that will be discussed in the lab course.

Students also participate in pre-lab activities before coming out to the University to conduct actual experiments.

"The pre-lab activities warm the students up to the concepts covered in the experiments," Duque said. "Ideally, the students will take the knowledge acquired in the classroom and put them to work in the lab."

Sixteen-year-old Rachel Davis from the Science Academy recently participated in the Regional Biotech program at UTPA.

Students learn about DNA forensic analysis, HIV testing, sickle cell anemia testing, an evolutionary analysis of fish using protein finger printing and a gene transformation experiment. In the process, students also learn to use sophisticated equipment that is not available in public schools, Duque said.

The program also allows teachers who have gone through the training to borrow equipment and conduct the experiments in their classroom.

"This program offers teachers the benefit of having the equipment shipped out to their school, along with materials and supplies, free of charge," Duque said.

The program is supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health and administered by the Clinical Laboratory Sciences Department of the University. Funding for the program will run through August 2004.

For more information about the program, contact Duque at 292-7319.