Parenting a Teenage Genetic Engineer
Welcome to a guest post by Jim Rea.
Jim is a writer and the proud father of a science-loving teenage daughter. Jim has been discovering genetic engineering alongside his daughter and navigating what it means to be a parent at the forefront of Genetic Engineering at Home. Here, Jim shares his perspective on the journey...
Last year my daughter started grade 7 at a school with a strong science program. One afternoon after getting home, she was really excited. She had just learned that her new school had a science fair. I had never seen her more excited about a school project.
A couple weeks later, Patricia had a topic for the fair. “I want my project to be about CRISPR”. At the time, I had no idea what CRISPR was. And when I learned, I subtly tried to discourage her. “Why don’t you do something with coding?” I asked. “This is coding,” she told me. “The REAL coding. The genetic code.”
I was still convinced genetic engineering was way beyond a grade 7 student. I was certain her teacher would encourage her to select a different topic. Fortunately, I was wrong. Her teacher saw how curious she was and told her to “shoot for the Moon.”
Patricia did her research and put genetic engineering equipment at the top of her Christmas list. Her enthusiasm was pretty convincing and we relented… but not before also throwing in a DVD of Jurassic Park with her lab equipment to give her some ethical guidance 😊
As parents, the biggest bias we had to overcome was letting our daughter work with E. Coli bacteria. Stories in the news made us associate E. Coli with food poisoning and severe illness. But we educated ourselves.
We learned that the majority of E. Coli strains are beneficial to life. And we discovered that the K12 E. Coli used in her experiments is one of the safest strains to work with. In fact, at any given time, there are probably more dangerous bacterial ‘science experiments’ lurking in our fridge or microwave. Which isn’t to say we don’t take safety seriously. Patricia has followed the comprehensive biosafety guidelines in each kit to the letter (we are big fans of the ‘inactivation bags’ that Amino Labs provides to contain and neutralize any biowaste from experiments).
Since starting to work with CRISPR and genetic engineering, Patricia’s interest in biology and chemistry keeps growing. She has engineered both bacteria and yeast to fluoresce, and now she’s learning to extract proteins from the cells she engineers. This summer, her DNA Playground has seen almost as much use as her Chromebook. She has been working hard to refine her lab skills and dig deeper into the science and chemistry behind proteins. She is on the cusp of attempting to create her own plasmids and making her own unique contributions to science.
One of the things that makes me proud as a dad is how Patricia views science. She sees it not as a thing, but a verb. It’s an action. Something she does. And it’s fun to see her put on her lab coat and prepare to start sciencing.
Patricia at Stem Kids Rock - Read more about her winning science fair project on their blog. Photo by Stem Kids Rock.