Hands-on DNA: Exploring Evolution

Hands-on DNA was a national project working with science centres, museums and universities across the country which allowed students to get hands-on experience doing molecular biology experiments. Developed and coordinated along with At-bristol, Centre for Life in Newcastle and Nowgen in Manchester, this Wellcome Trust supported project was a huge success. For details of where to find these workshops have a look of the list of participating organisations. Our final report and the evaluation report can also be found on this page.

The participating organisations in Hands-on DNA: Exploring Evolution were:

View ASDC - Hands-on DNA: Participating Organisations in a larger map

Bacterial Evolution a 2.5 hour workshop for 14-16 year olds which simulates how a clinical bacteriologist might distinguish between different strains of the same species of bacteria, and what this means for the patient. Looks at how bacterial evolution works, for example how antibiotic resistance can spread.

A Question of Taste a 5 hour workshop for post-16 students. They extract their own DNA, use PCR, restriction digest and gel electrophoresis to compare the ability to taste a bitter compound to the version of a taste receptor gene they have. Looks at why this characteristic might have evolved by comparing to a similar trait in chimps.

We are delighted to present final report for the Hands-on DNA project.

Hands-on DNA Final Report.pdf

Full details of the evaluation results can be found in the summary evaluation report, written by Ben Gammon, the independent consultant who carried out the evaluation work on the project.

Hands-on DNA Summary Evaluation Report.pdf

Executive Summary

'Hands-on DNA' is a national strategic project which aims to make highly engaging, practical molecular biology experiences accessible to students in all parts of the UK. The project was led by The UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC) and was delivered in partnership with three organisations with considerable experience running innovative DNA programmes, namely At-Bristol, Centre for Life and Nowgen.

Over the 14 months of the main project the team selected, trained, equipped and supported 15 geographically spread UK centres to deliver excellent molecular biology workshops. The project also provided the necessary resources and project structure to assist centres to embed these high-quality molecular biology workshops as part of their on-going schools programme so they could continue their delivery after the funded phase of the project had been completed.

Overall, the new centres delivered cutting-edge molecular biology workshops to 1,707 students and 176 accompanying teachers in 15 UK locations in the four months following training. All 15 centres have expressed their intent to continue running these workshops for students into the future.

The centres selected to take part included science and discovery centres, museums, and universities all of whom had proven expertise in schools engagement and very different levels of equipment and experience in molecular biology. The needs of every centre were assessed and ASDC centrally purchased over 1500 individual items of equipment costing over £80,000 and delivered these in a bespoke manner to each centre. The Hands-on DNA team ran training academies to train participants in how to use this equipment as well as how to set-up and deliver one of two high-end practical molecular biology workshops. In addition the project ran a 'buddy support system' to help new centres to set up labs and run these workshops in their centres. Training handbooks and training videos were also created along with a full and flexible marketing pack to support the centres.

Centres were trained in one of two practical workshops dependant on the existing skills of the centre. The first, 'A Question of Taste' is a pre-existing full-day curriculum linked workshop for Post-16 students where students isolate and test an aspect of their own DNA. The second workshop known as 'Bacterial evolution' was created specifically for this project and is two-hours long and targeted at 14-16 year olds.

Overall the project team trained and supported 37 staff members to successfully deliver these workshops in 15 centres in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 1514 students and 147 teachers across the UK took part in the project's overarching evaluation study and the results have been impressive.

Evaluation results from Students aged 14-16 after a workshop

And their teachers said…

If you would like any further information about the project, please email: michaela.livingstone@sciencecentres.org.uk

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