Wallace High biology pupils enjoy BentoLab

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Wallace High School Biology students received a visit last week from BentoLab and spent an enjoyable few hours looking at the influence of DNA technology in everyday life.

DNA technology is one of the hot topics in the STEM areas at the minute. Until now a great deal of this technology has been inaccessible to schools due to the cost of equipment and the challenges of the protocols involved. This is all set to change thanks to the vision of BentoLab.

This is a startup company whose aim is to provide the ability for community scientists and schools to carry out DNA manipulation techniques in an all in one device that would be portable enough to transport in a laptop bag.

Having spotted the technology in ‘Wired’ the online science and technology magazine, Dr. Halferty of Wallace High School’s Biology department, made contact with co-founder of the BentoLab, Bethan Wolfenden, to explore the possibility of running a workshop with some of the school’s A Level biology students.

Dr Halferty explained: “With the influence of DNA technology on everyday life only set to increase, it is important that we educate as many of our students interested in studying Biology related degrees in the applications and processes involved in this technology. The BentoLab provides an affordable all in one solution to reach this goal.

“It’s clear from the BentoLab’s success on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter that they’ve got a product of interest to a large audience.”

During the course of the day Bethan introduced students to the BentoLab and why she and her cofounder, Phillip Boeing, wanted to develop the device. She also talked passionately about the need to educate the public about what DNA technology involves in order to display some of the myths around its application.

She commented: “We are all very confident in our use of terminology relating to Information Technology and computing, but society in general is still very sceptical about DNA technology.

“The more accessible the technology becomes - the less sceptical people will be.”

During the workshop students were able to get hands on with the BentoLab itself whilst also learning how to use micro pipettes during an investigation into the PTC gene - one of a number of genes that allow us to taste bitter flavours in our food.

They used the microcentrifuge to spin their DNA samples and they also used the thermocycler PCR functionality of the BentoLab in order to amplify their DNA samples.

AS biology student Anna Curragh commented: “It was great to actually carry out a PCR reaction as until now we’ve only ever talked about in class; the BentoLab was very easy to use.”

The day finished with an informal question and answer session about what it is like to be a research scientist.