COSTA, MJTM; RAMOS, A; University of the Azores; University of the Azores: Demystifying molecular biology: a role for conservation

In the developed world, few citizens will ignore that the human genome has been deciphered or that gene therapy holds promises for new cures. DNA has turned into a new myth. Molecular biology became part of the daily news that are printed, read, or broadcasted. Many look forward for their benefits while others fear its hidden dangers. In the beginning of the XXI century, biology educators have an increased responsibility in elucidating both students and the public, concerning misconceptions around some of its successes and limitations. However, it’s hard to keep pace with the astonishing rate of evolution of the discipline. Molecular biology’s integrative nature poses different challenges for learners, mostly used with the fact that chemistry and biology are distinct disciplines. In this paper, a hands-on approach aimed at learning molecular biology under a conservation context will be exemplified. It is based on three initiatives held in 2001 and 2002 at the University of the Azores, in which high school students were welcomed in the University to work on 7 days projects on the conservation genetics of cetaceans. They watched the animals in their habitat, obtained genomic DNA from skin and muscle samples and amplified mitochondrial regions informative for population genetics studies. The fascination associated with the biological model with the magic character of DNA was lived by 30 students, who declared that what had surprised them the most was how easy it was to work on molecular biology.