Education notebook | Mobile genetics lab brings science to students

vgrooms@thesunnews.comNovember 30, 2012 

Some Horry County Schools students got a first-hand look at how a state-of-the-art genetics laboratory operates, courtesy of a genetics research facility that makes its home in South Carolina but treats people from all over the world.

The Gene Machine, a lab housed in a 41-foot custom bus, is the educational arm of the Greenwood Genetic Center, a nonprofit institute that provides clinical genetic services, diagnostic laboratory testing and research in medical genetics.

The bus made stops this week at the Academy for Technology and Academics, Myrtle Beach High School and Aynor High School with a mission to improve genetic literacy among high schools students using hands-on activities and to introduce them to careers in the fields of genetics and biotechnology.

“It’s awesome – my students just love it,” said Teresa Nirenstein, health science and pre-med instructor at ATA, as 25 of her pre-med juniors climbed into the mobile lab Tuesday. “It’s an impressive display of practical technology on wheels.”

The students sat at tables outfitted with various tools of the genetics trade so they could learn how to test faux samples for the sickle cell anemia trait. Genetics instructors Jackie Cascio and Katie Henderson were on hand to guide the exercise step by step, answer questions and “hopefully get them interested in science,” Henderson said.

Students donned aprons and gloves before checking the tips on their micropipettes, instruments used to measure and dispense microscopic samples. Keeping their instruments vertical, they carefully loaded controlled samples into a gel substance.

“I’ve never known anything like this, so I’m learning a lot,” said Chelsea Billingsley, who is aiming to become a psychiatrist.

The gel was then loaded into an electrophoresis box that was put into a buffer liquid mostly made of water. Cascio sent an electric current, 275 volts, through the samples, which pushed them through the gel. The samples could then be identified and compared based on how far they traveled.

“It’s like jumping your car battery,” Cascio said.

Robert Philius said he was already familiar with some things in the lab and was enjoying the exercise.

“It helps me get better, and I’m just learning from doing,” said Philius, who hopes to become a neurological surgeon.

Nirenstein said the students all have very high aspirations, and her job is to give them a broad curriculum so they are familiar with everything from micro-organisms to human ethics, which has taken on greater importance because of genetic advancements.

“My whole focus is to make sure that when they go to college for pre-med that they are not eliminated,” she said. “Every college has a class that is the deal breaker, and they want the cream of the crop.”

Nirenstein said the mobile lab will return in the spring and allow students to perform a more advanced lesson that will expose them to gene testing for cancer screenings. For more information on the Gene Machine, go to www.ggc.org/education/programs/outreach/mobile-lab.html.

Socastee choirs present Christmas show

The Socastee High School Show Choirs, featuring the award-winning Socastee Singers, will present “All Things Christmas,” a collection of favorite holiday songs 7 p.m. on Friday and again on Dec. 8.

Both nights the show will be at Socastee High School, 4900 Socastee Blvd., Myrtle Beach.

Tickets are $5 and are available at the door or from any Socastee choral student. A cookie and cider reception will follow with a traditional holiday song sing-along.

Kingston kids raise money, help others

First-graders at Kingston Elementary School completed a plant service-learning project, which raised $150 for Churches Assisting People.

The students hand-painted pots and planted flowers, then sold them to community members at the school’s PTO Character Book Parade. The event was held Nov. 13 before the students left for their Thanksgiving break.

Pee Dee Elementary seeks help to document history

Pee Dee Elementary School needs help from its former students as it tries to build an archive of the school’s history, which goes back about 130 years. The archive will show how the school came to be what it is today, and the school is asking for any items, such as pictures, documents, stories and memories, that can tell the Pee Dee Elementary story. Submitted items will be returned to their owners.

These days, the school is located at 6555 Highway 134 in Conway. For more information or to contribute to the archive project, call Debbie Rabon at 843-397-2579.

Academy launches National Beta Club

The Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology inducted 68 charter members for its National Beta Club Nov. 15.

The club’s officers are Parth Parmar, president; Erin Farley, vice president; Sora Lebowitz, treasurer; Reed Collins, secretary; and Dalia Martinez, recorder. Marjorie Martin and LaKesha Carey are club sponsors.

Help literacy effort at blowout book sale

The Horry County Literacy Council is holding a Big Blowout Bonanza Book Sale Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Myrtle Beach Family Learning Center, 3101 Oak St. in Myrtle Beach. Proceeds will go toward maintaining the council’s dyslexia program.

Almost all the books will cost $1 or less (or five paperback books for $1). Categories include fiction, nonfiction, paperbacks, hardcover, cookbooks, crafts, sports, autobiographies and more.

The council’s mission is to help anyone struggling with reading, writing and spelling, and who may have disorders such as dyslexia, which is an auditory processing disorder. There is currently a waiting list of nine children and three adults who have warning signs of dyslexia and are in need of tutors. The council will screen and train volunteer tutors for those in need.

For more information, call the council at 843-839-1695.

Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.

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