High School Biology: Can Tissue Culture be Done in a Dining Room?

Can tissue culture be done successfully in a New York City dining room?  I don’t know yet, but I’m going to start working on an answer to this question next week.  My feelings about this upcoming lab can be summed up with two words – “excitement” and “trepidation.”

Plant_tissue_cultures,_National_Center_for_Genetic_Resources_Preservation,_USDA
“Plant tissue cultures, National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, USDA, Lance-Gheung – Flickr.  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons

The students I’ll be doing this lab with are pretty great.  They’re a group of six homeschooled girls who take their academics seriously.  None of them plan on going into science professionally but they all think that science is awesome.  Importantly, they’ve always risen to the occasion when I’ve given them technically challenging lab work.  With all that in mind, I decided to give Carolina Biological’s Tobacco Hormone Classroom Kit a try.  My goals with this lab include:

  • Giving the students a taste of more technical lab work.
  • Re-enforcing knowledge and understanding of hormones, using plants as a model.
  • Using the process of attempting a sterile procedure as a way to highlight the ubiquity of microscopic life.
  • Opening a discussion of important concepts in modern biology, including stem cells, cloning, and genetic modification.

My primary concern is that students will be so concerned with the minutia of the procedure that they won’t have any mental bandwidth to devote to big ideas.  Seriously – the more I read about how to create sterile-enough conditions outside of a specialized lab, the more daunted I feel.  We will be using a lot of dilute bleach and strong rubbing alcohol.  I also have mixed feelings about spending a large amount of time and energy on a “cook book” lab.  (But I don’t see a way to turn this into an inquiry lab given the technical constraints that we’re working with.)

As the class studies tissue culture over the next six weeks or so, I’ll be paying close attention to the effectiveness of this activity.

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