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'Doesn't it make you feel smart?': Genetics for high schoolers

By KBell
Jan. 28, 2012 at midnight
Updated Jan. 27, 2012 at 7:28 p.m.

About 500 high school students from 15 Crossroads high schools attend Sam Rhine's genetics lecture at the Victoria school district's Fine Arts Center.

Sam Rhine had already talked about introns, methylation and blastocysts when he offered the audience of high schoolers some reassurance.

"Don't make this hard. It's incredibly simple. Let it be simple," the geneticist said.

He proceeded to explain to the students how a mutated oncogene produces an abnormal protein called an oncoprotein, which then turns on cyclin genes, which relay to ignite other proteins, which sparks an error in mitosis, which causes cancer.


Rhine did the same thing last year, and for the some 20 years before that, in the Genetic Update Conferences he brings to Crossroads students. The fundamentals of genetics may remain, but each year Rhine offers students a glimpse into the latest research and, most excitingly, the future of genetics research.

"Doesn't it make you feel smart?" he asked the audience.

Victoria College sponsors the event, whose audience has so outgrown other venues, this year's 500 students were held in the VISD Fine Arts Center.

Bill Coons, chair of the department of science at VC, said the four-hour presentation combines what would be an array of college biology and genetics classes into a single presentation that shows real-world applications for some pretty abstract concepts.

"The biggest thing (the students) do is relax and say, 'Wow, that's neat,'" Coons said.

Mary Campbell, a freshman in Yoakum's honors biology course, wasn't necessarily kicking back during the presentation. But she was impressed, taking an entire 22 pages of notes.

"I like how it all works and how there's still stuff that doesn't work," she said.

Mary said she hopes to go into the medical field, so the crash course in genetics was nothing if not enthralling.

"Ninety percent of education is inspiration," Coons said, adding that Rhine's conferences have turned on numerous students to the possibilities of genetic research.

Perhaps most attention-grabbing were Rhine's glimpses into future research: harvesting organs in animals, reprogramming stem cells from skin samples, a pill that stops cancer before it starts.

"Did I mention some of you guys may be helping with this? Wouldn't that be fun?" Rhine said every so often.

Mary, for one, was on board. At the end of the day, she wrapped up her notebook, thick with information, and headed home to review.

"I'm going to annoy my parents with it," she said, smiling.



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