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Introduction to Biotechnology: An Essential Curriculum, Page 2

Getting Started
DNA structure and function
Basic lab techniques
Restriction analysis
PCR and sequencing
Biotechnology vocabulary assessment
Optional labs and activities

Basic Lab Techniques

To prepare for advanced laboratory work, students need to develop skill in handling biotechnology equipment and instruments and in using sterile techniques. We recommend you devote 3 to 5 class periods to this purpose. The Sterile Technique Kit is designed to familiarize students with the necessary skills for handling bacteria and the Practice Pipetting Stations Kit helps them hone their pipetting skills. Students should also practice making electrophoresis gels by preparing the gels to be used in subsequent labs.

The goal of this biotechnology curriculum is to expose students to as many of the basics as possible so that they can understand and appreciate what is happening in a real research lab. Often, the objective of a biotechnology lab is to figure out how DNA is arranged. This is called mapping and is used with both large and small sections of DNA.

Naturally, it is best to start students off with problems that involve small sections of DNA. The Restriction Mapping of Plasmid DNA Kit is a simple load-and-go lab that yields consistently good results. After performing the lab, students must reason and apply their knowledge to correctly map the DNA. Set aside at least three 50-minute class periods to get the most out of this lab.


Practically all the major advances of genetic engineering in medicine, agriculture, ecology, and genomics are based on taking DNA from one organism and putting it into another for a specific purpose, e.g., to increase a plant's resistance to insects. This genetic engineering process is called transformation. One of the best transformation labs available is our Green Gene Colony Transformation Kit. It amazes students to see the transformed cells change color, confirming that the transformation has really taken place. And students can view the transformation without special lighting or adding any extra chemicals to the agar.

This lab yields consistently good results with minimal teacher preparation time. All activities are completed in three 50-minute class periods with only an extra day or 2 for your preparation work (about 10 to 30 minutes each day). Few labs drive home the concepts of good experimental design and the use of controls in an experiment as well as this one does. The results and discussion sections really make students think about what they are doing, and the transformation efficiency calculation integrates math skills.


Our Exploring Electrophoresis Series of kits work great and are a relatively inexpensive way to introduce your class to electrophoresis. These kits can run on battery power, but we recommend purchasing the Carolina™ Electrophoresis Power Supply for best results. Each kit contains agarose, TBE buffer, CarolinaBLU™ stain, DNA samples (enough for 10 separate experiments), and 5 sets of apparatus that include the following:

  • gel boxes
  • electrical leads
  • gel box electrodes
  • combs
  • pipetting devices
  • sets of DNA and enzymes

A kit costs less than one regular gel box and is about half the cost of a regular power supply, making electrophoresis more affordable for today's budget conscious schools. Moreover, each kit features restriction enzymes that can be stored at room temperature, and many also feature DNA that can be stored at room temperature, as well. Let's take a closer look at some of these kits.

  • Exploring Electrophoresis of DNA allows students to make, load, run, and analyze gels with precut DNA. These are the same samples found in the Restriction Enzyme Cleavage Kit that is standard for the AP® Biology lab curriculum, making this kit a very economical substitute.
  • Exploring Restriction Analysis and Electrophoresis of DNA is a good substitute for the DNA Restriction Analysis Kit and does not require expensive gel boxes or power supplies. This kit allows students to actually "cut" DNA using restriction enzymes.
  • Exploring Electrophoresis and Forensics lets students just "load-and-go" using predigested DNA. It is a good substitute for the PCR Forensics Simulation Kit.

After an initial purchase, which yields 5 sets of apparatus, you can order the refill kits or build up an abundant supply of apparatus in just a year or so. If your goal is to simply teach the concept of electrophoresis, these kits are our first recommendation.

However, if your goal is to prepare students for further studies in biotechnology, then we recommend using the sophisticated equipment that they will be exposed to in college, research, and industrial labs. We offer this equipment at reasonable prices. Here are our recommendations.

Restriction analysis

The DNA Restriction Analysis Kit is, along with transformation, another classic biotechnology lab that introduces students to some of the fundamental techniques and skills used in research labs worldwide. In this lab students actually restrict (cut) DNA with several restriction enzymes (molecular scissors) and then apply their knowledge and reasoning to analyze the results. This lab helps students develop the following skills:

  • handling DNA and restriction enzymes by pipetting
  • cutting DNA with restriction enzymes
  • preparing, loading, running, and staining electrophoresis gels
  • analyzing results and determining base pair lengths for unknown DNA using semilog graph paper