High school students get hands-on genetics lesson at AgCenter research station

(10/24/19) CROWLEY, La. — Midland High School students learned about the applications of biotechnology in agriculture during a visit to the LSU AgCenter H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station on Oct. 23.

Sixty science class students learned how plant breeding improves crops for farmers and consumers.

AgCenter rice breeder Adam Famoso explained how different lines of rice are selected in the breeding process. Students 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.

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.

Guerra, originally from Nicaragua, said he came to the rice research station to become a rice breeder because it’s well known throughout the world in the rice industry. “Its reputation for the best breeding station in the world for rice is the reason I’m here,” he said.

Acadia Parish 4-H agent Megan Sarver helped students apply the knowledge in an interactive activity, DNA for Dinner.

AgCenter geneticist Brijesh Angira talked about the mechanics of finding desirable traits for breeders with the use of DNA markers developed at the AgCenter. Students were able to extract DNA from strawberries in a hands-on experiment conducted by Acadia Parish 4-H agent Kayla Segura.

AgCenter 4-H regional coordinator Lanette Hebert said the first session complements a school-based genetics unit. “It was great to see students interested in the subject and relating what they learned in the classroom to what they were experiencing,” she said.

This pilot effort, which could be used by other schools, was supported through the Louisiana 4-H Innovation grant process, a partnership with 4-H and AgCenter research faculty.

To help students prepare for the field trip, a national 4-H curriculum was aligned with school standards and provided to Midland High School biology teacher Chad Breaux to include in his lessons, Hebert said.

She credited Breaux for his work to coordinate his lessons with what the students experienced at the rice research station. “He continued to reinforce how it applied to what they are learning in the classroom,” Hebert said.

Famoso said one thing he stressed to students was that agriculture is more than just working in the fields.

“Almost any discipline can have application in agriculture,” he 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.”

The session meshed with the lesson plans in Midland High science classes to reinforce what students are learning.

Breaux said the visit to the research facility was an eye-opener.

“Their biggest take-away is that what we’re doing over here and reading about on the internet isn’t happening in some far-off university. It’s happening in their backyard,” he said.

Breaux said a binder full of material provided through the program will be useful in his classwork.

The visit was the culmination of what Breaux has been teaching students about genetics. “It ties in perfectly with the new science curriculum. It’s all hands-on applications of actual knowledge,” he said.

Hudd Sloan and Nathanael Larsen extract DNA from a strawberry.jpg thumbnail

Midland High School biology students Hudd Sloan, at left, and Nathanael Larsen extract DNA from a strawberry plant during a field trip to the LSU AgCenter H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

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LSU AgCenter research associate Gavin Guidry, at right, helps Midland High School students examine rice plant leaves under a magnifying glass to determine which leaves are smooth or rough during a field trip to the LSU AgCenter H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

10/24/2019 6:39:01 PM
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