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Project Ideas
Looking for a new twist on the double helix for your students?Here are eight ideas that you can turn into individual or classroom projects.
Watch the Discover Magazine: Genetics for more information
  1. Along for the Ride.
    Every person carries about 100 billion miles of DNA in his or her body. Try to imagine it. Do some research on the diameter of the solar system. If you could stretch this DNA into a single strand, how far could you ride around the system? How many times could your travel back and forth to the sun or to Pluto?
  2. Build Your own DNA.
    In 1963, a group of scientists won the Nobel Prize for its work studying deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)-the genetic material of cells that carries their genetic code. The scientists built models of all the elements known in DNA to figure out how the molecules would best fit together. Thanks to their work, we know that DNA consists of two long chains of nucleotides twisted into a double helix. Find illustrations of DNA, and use them to create your own 3D model of the double helix.
  3. Gene Journalism.
    Decide if you want to study your own family (if family photos passed on for generations are available) or a celebrity family (autobiographies or biographies are often loaded with pictures of the famous person's grandparents, parents, children, etc.). After locating at least three generations of a family, write a family gene journal, noting where each descendant probably got each trait. Besides obvious traits, such as eye or hair color, try to note tiny details, such as the way their ears and eyebrows are shaped or even the places wrinkles formed on their faces.
  4. Expert Opinion.
    Imagine you are a genetics specialist who has been sent to a remote town where one of the inhabitants has porphyria, Proteus syndrome, or another disfiguring genetic condition. The townspeople are frightened by rumors that the sick person a monster, instead of a human. Research the medical facts of the disorder. Then pretend that you have called a town meeting to put the town's fears to rest. Write your speech to the town and deliver it to the class.
  5. Quiz the Geneticist.
    Invite a genetic researcher or counselor to your class to discuss recent research and the tests that have been developed to screen for inherited genetic disorders. Prepare a list of questions to ask before the scientist talks to the class.
  6. Multiples of Multiples.
    One formula for predicting the number of multiple births goes like this: If one set of twins is born in every 90 live births, you can use this number to determine how many births have to occur before triplets are produced: Multiply 90 by itself, and you get 8,100 (for the number of births needed to produce a set of triplets). (When you multiply 90 x 90 x 90, you get the number of births that must occur to get a set of quadruplets.) Test this formula in your community. Find out how many sets of twins were born in a local hospital in the past year, or count the number of sets of twins in your school. Compare this number to the population of single births of the same age. Then calculate how many babies must be born before triplets come along.
  7. Genes Are for Keeps.
    Genetically altered animals are bred with others in controlled situations. Yet, if a recombinant gene were to escape into the wild, a species could be changed forever. Hold a classroom debate about the benefits and drawbacks of genetic engineering. Is it ethical to change other organisms to help humans? If you were a genetic engineer, what things you want to improve or change through genetic engineering?
  8. Hollywood Clones.
    The movie Jurassic Park, based on a novel by Michael Crichton, explored what could happen if scientists could clone dinosaurs. In the story, scientists found dinosaur genetic material in insect bodies that had been preserved in amber, the hardened sap of trees, for millions of years. The cloned dinosaurs, including the terrifying Tyrannosaurus rex, were placed in a theme park on an island. Based on what you know about genetics and cloning, write a brief essay in which you argue whether the plot of Jurassic Park is realistic.