LSU AgCenter research associate Gavin Guidry, right, helps Midland High School students examine rice plant leaves during a field trip to the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station.
DNA Discovery, a cutting-edge science curriculum created by Acadia Parish 4-H agents, puts students in the lab with scientists working to improve the food supply.
The program teaches 10th grade students about genetics and then connects 10th grade science students with research scientist Adam Famoso at the LSU AgCenter H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station in Crowley.
“Their biggest takeaway is that what we’re doing at the Rice Station and reading about on the internet isn’t happening in some far-off university,” said Midland High School science teacher Chad Breaux. “It is happening in their backyard. It ties in perfectly with the new science curriculum. It’s all hands-on applications of actual knowledge.”
Under the leadership of Louisiana 4-H Program Leader Toby Lepley, the Louisiana 4-H Foundation funded 10 cutting-edge parish-based programs during the 2019-20 year. Through the grant process, parish extension agents can develop nontraditional programs that may have been identified through their local advisory committees or school leadership.
Creators Kayla Segura and Megan Sarver worked with the Acadia Parish School System to implement the school enrichment effort, which was aligned with the 10th grade science curriculum.
During its pilot phase, the program was implemented with all 10th grade students at Midland High School. Breaux utilized research articles in class assignments and referenced national 4-H curricula in teaching the genetics unit, which concluded with a field study at the Rice Research Station.
“In a time where teachers were asked to reevaluate their teaching principles, our bond was strengthened within our school system because we were able to tailor these lessons to the new state standards and meet the needs of the school system,” Segura and Sarver said in a statement.
Sixty students attended the field study and were engaged in hands-on lessons. The lessons were taught by Segura, Sarver, Famoso and other research faculty members.
The field study incorporated a tour of the LSU AgCenter Rice Breeding Lab, where Famoso provided an overview of Mendelian genetics and engaged the students in a Punnett square activity. Students learned how different lines of rice are selected in the breeding process. They carried out a genetics study to evaluate rice plants with smooth and rough leaves, and they analyzed the results to determine the genetics of that trait. Famoso stressed to students that agriculture is more than just working in the fields.
“Almost any discipline can have application in agriculture,” Famoso said. “The idea of coming here is to take something they are learning in the classroom and put it into the context of the real world.”
Raul Guerra, a doctoral student, traced the development of agriculture and biotechnology through history and how food we eat today has been altered through biotechnology from its wild origins. The students then applied the knowledge in an interactive activity called DNA for Dinner, which was conducted by Sarver.
Students learned about the mechanics of finding desirable traits for breeding with the use of DNA markers developed at the AgCenter. Students also extracted DNA from strawberries in a hands-on experiment lead by Segura.
The students listened. In a survey after the program, 85% said they discussed the advantages and disadvantages that genetically modified crops can offer farmers and producers.