ATC-sponsored camp teaches teens basic DNA testing skills

STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT These Aiken County high school students get a chance to learn about DNA testing during a recent camp at Aiken Technical College.

Most teenagers get a glimpse of DNA testing on television shows that include the “CSI” and “NCIS” franchises.

A group of Aiken County students got to explore the real thing at Aiken Technical College recently – learning how to correctly perform such testing in a lab setting.

The DNA camp is one of several hosted by the college through its STEM Quest ATC program. The camps are connected to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The instructor for the DNA program was Dr. Waltena Simpson, a microbiology professor at S.C. State University.

“I'm giving these students a background in DNA and a very foundational technique,” she said. “It's something where they will definitely see what is done in forensics, such as on 'CSI' and for paternity tests.”

Simpson demonstrated how the technique electrophoresis can separate DNA through a pipette for the loading of a gel to separate molecules as they pass through.

“DNA testing has improved the way it was done 15 to 20 years ago,” Simpson said. “You can get even better results, which is so important if you're trying to send a person to jail.”

Specifically, the students were working with plasmid DNA molecules, which are found primary as bacteria. As a result, they weren't working human DNA that day.

Yolanda Drayton, ATC's operations manager in the training and development division, said the college has seven STEM camps this summer. Last month, high school students got a chance to use a virtual welding machine that is more cost-effective for practicing the craft.

The 16 students with the DNA camp “were selected through the application process,” Drayton said. “There are four scholarships that were fully funded for four Midland Valley High School students. It's very exciting for them to be on the ATC campus.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.

Editor's note: This article was edited to reflect Yoland Drayton's correct name.