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More than 10,500 students use their DNA to analyse evolution of taste gene

More than 10,500 students from schools and colleges across the North West have taken part in the Question of Taste practical science workshop since it started 13 years ago.

In the workshop, students analyse their own DNA to explore the evolution of an unusual trait, where some people taste a particular chemical as being horribly bitter, while others can't taste it at all.

Since the workshops began back in 2003, there have been around 10,524 student visits to The Nowgen Centre laboratory. More than 670 pupils from 25 schools enjoyed the sessions during the 2015/16 academic year.

Question of Taste workshops (2)

The hands-on workshops for post-16 biology students uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to investigate human evolution and answer questions including around why humans and chimpanzees have evolved different responses to taste. Importantly, it provides students with the opportunity to use scientific equipment and techniques that are within the curriculum, but that most schools don't have access to.

The one-day sessions are aimed at helping students to better understand areas of biology including the genetic code; classifying organisms; variation, adaption and evolution, and gives practical experience of isolating DNA, use of restriction enzymes and gel electrophoresis.

Students work with their own DNA to classify themselves into one of three common genotypes and then compare their DNA sequence with that of a chimpanzee, helping them to understand convergent evolution between the two species.

Question of Taste workshops (1)

Leah Holmes PhD, Director of Public Programmes at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Our Question of Taste workshops have proved incredibly popular with local students. Most of the schools involved return each year and some have been visiting since the workshops began back in 2003."

"PhD students from The University of Manchester support the delivery of the sessions and we train approximately 15 students each year, in communication and presentation skills to deliver the workshop. They are predominantly from a medical science and genetics background and are able to share their experiences and insight from their research, which is incredibly inspiring for students who attend the workshops and want to develop a career in that area."

Students who've attended the workshops in the past have commented:

The researchers delivering the workshop were great at explaining, assisting and encouraging.

"It was great to be able to work with my own DNA!"

"Very interesting and now I actually understand the PCR process."

"Interesting and engaging activities - pitched at the correct level."

To find out more about the sessions, visit the Genomics for Schools website.