According to the MassBioTech Council, Massachusetts continues to be a national leader in the biotech industry. Going forward, this growing field will offer many employment opportunities for our students.

Scituate High School science faculty members and grant applicants Kathy Elich, Charlotte O’Driscoll and Michael Zhang are continually looking for ways to enhance the curriculum to better prepare students for college and beyond.

They saw the Scituate Education Foundation’s (SEF) call for grant proposals as an opportunity to incorporate PCR (polymerase chain reaction) into the SHS biology labs.

Polymerase chain reaction, not exactly a household phrase, is a process used in DNA analysis… and a very exciting and relevant addition to the high school’s biology lab. PCR is used by the biotech industry to amplify small sections of DNA that can then be used for a variety of applications such as forensics, gene therapy, and drug discovery.

The SEF grant funded the purchase of miniPCR equipment, enabling students to be exposed to techniques and skills they can use in college labs or a possible career in the life sciences.

“Students are able to take the real-world lab techniques involved in genetic testing and apply them to practical problems that we face today, such as agricultural yield and nutrition, personal genetic risk factors for diseases and disorders, or government oversight of mass safety and testing,” explains teacher Michael Zhang.

Or, as simply put by one of his students, “Instead of just learning about food safety testing, we can actually learn how to test for E. coli contamination ourselves.”

These important laboratory protocols are not usually available at the high school level. This miniPCR equipment is by no means just for the student lab. It can be found helping to combat Ebola in Sierra Leone, aiding lemur conservation efforts in Madagascar, and enabling DNA analysis on the International Space Station.

As the school year is wrapping up, SEF followed up with Zhang and heard from several of his AP Bio students about the impact of PCR in the lab.

“Thanks to the SEF grant, we have been able to apply the miniPCR suit of genetic testing labs to the post-AP Biology Curriculum in a culminating Capstone Style project where students apply, conduct, research, and teach underclassman the knowledge they've gained through the year in AP Biology in a project-based learning style setting,” says Zhang.

An AP bio student reports that the experiments using the miniPCR, "...opened my eyes about the capabilities of testing my own DNA and seeing the genes I possessed visually, and able to gain a better understanding of my own body...”, and another commented, "Students like myself can gain a full understanding of Genetically Modified Organisms, after seeing firsthand the differences between organic and modified organisms." SEF is proud to have made this impressive work possible.

Scituate Education Foundation is pleased to announce the recipients of its 2018 grant awards. Collectively, these 27 awards reflect our mission to promote diverse lifelong learning opportunities in Scituate. For the complete list of funded programs and projects, visit

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Elizabeth Holthaus for Scituate Education Foundation.