AP Biology’s DNA Lab at Stony Brook


Inserting DNA mixture into gel mold before conducting electrophoresis.

Eleni Aneziris, Staff Writer

College Board first introduced the Advanced Placement Program to American schools in 1955, intending to close the gap between secondary and higher education created in the early 20th century and throughout World War II. It was incredibly successful in allowing motivated students to earn college credit and to avoid repetition in course work at the high school and college levels.

In recent years, the AP Biology curriculum has been criticized for not adequately preparing students for more advanced courses. In response, College Board revised the curriculum and AP exam for the start of the 2012-2013 school year. This new curriculum is designed to focus more on understanding the processes that occur in Biology, rather than the rote memorization of key terms and equations.

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, Ward Melville’s two AP Biology classes visited Stony Brook University to conduct a lab as part of their new AP Biology curriculum. The program that allowed for this trip to take place was Stony Brook University’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education, founded by Dr. David Bynum in 2007.  In this lab, students studied the process of gel electrophoresis, and performed experiments to examine the effects of different conditions, including temperature, pH, salinity, and the use of detergent, on such procedures. On the morning of the trip, AP Biology teacher Ms. Visconti explained, “It’s hard for our school to buy all the equipment and maintain it. That’s why we go to Stony Brook.”

In AP Biology, one of the essential points that both teachers, Ms. Visconti and Mr. Harding, emphasize is that in a year, many of their students will be in college. Thus, they both aim to create as much of a college-like atmosphere at the high school level as they can. They do so by having their students perform lengthy, college-level labs, and write thematic term papers supported by relevant scientific journals. “The professors you will meet at Stony Brook today will also treat you like college students. They expect that your work ethic and knowledge is what it should be. […] They’ll put you on the spot; they’ll stand in front of you until you give an answer,” said Ms. Visconti in preparation for the trip, emphasizing the importance of being mentally prepared for the college setting.

Dr. Moloney, one of the professors, was very passionate about the applications of genetics and recombinant DNA. He said, “The genetic alteration of organisms is humanly possible. There are researchers in Stony Brook making glow-in-the-dark pigs right as we speak.”

Many of the students in AP Biology said that they had performed gel electrophoresis in their Honors Biology classes, but the use of the varying conditions was new to them. In the experiment, some of the conditions only partially inhibited the function of the restriction enzymes, while others, such as the detergent, completely inhibited the enzymes. The latter case resulted in the DNA not being cut at all, so in the image taken under UV light, the experimental DNA samples all ended up in the same position.

It is through the collaborative efforts of the AP Biology teachers and the professors at Stony Brook, as well as their shared desire to encourage a new generation to pursue and develop a genuine interest for science, that allowed for this trip to be a success.