Tuesday, July 2, 2013

UCHS AP Biology Students Participate in Washington University Study

This past school year UCHS Advanced Placement (AP) Biology students participated in an ecological and molecular genetics study sponsored by Washington University to identify cyanogenesis in white clover. Teacher Julie Ertmann's students collected white clover samples from around the University City High School campus and tested them to determine if they contained the genes to make the compounds that make cyanide.

Junior Isaac Tobias and Senior Chris States discuss the proper
 way to read test results with their teacher, Julie Ertmann

Three trials were conducted on each clover cluster collected.  Testing involved mashing up the clover and mixing it with water, linamarase (a plant enzyme), and linamarin (a sugar).   If the clover tested was cyanigenic they would be able to detect the cyanide in each of the trials, but if it only produced the enzyme they would only be able to detect cyanide in the trial with the sugar (linamarin).  

Senior Anna Soifer adds linamarase and linamarin
 to the clover samples

Samples in the incubator.
Students then collected data (number of cyanagenic plants, number of enzyme producing plants number of sugar producing plants) and calculated the ratios between them. Their data was submitted  to Washington  University, who will pool it with data collected from across the country, sorted by region.

Senior Ursula Monaghan checks to see if a reaction has occurred.

An unusually high number of cyanagenic plants were discovered on the UCHS campus, leading the students to conduct a second set of trials, which yielded the same results.

Senior Chris States uses a smartboard to record study data

Senior Grace Deitzler (who credits this class with greatly influencing her decision to become a biology major)  found it “interesting that the plant would produce just the enzyme, because it's a metabolic waste, as it serves no other purpose for the plant, whereas the sugar (linamarin) could be used if necessary for other purposes within the cells."

The author of this blog will have to take her word on this, and is very pleased that our students have the opportunity to so greatly exceed their elders’ knowledge on such matters.

Thank you to Grace Deitzler for reporting and photography on this post!

Update: Anna Soifer is now studying archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, Ursula Monaghan is studying biomedical engineering at Swarthmore College, Chris State is studying business administration at William Jewel College, and Grace Deitzler is studying biological sciences and chemistry at Missouri S&T

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