Since the final AP test this year, we (the AP students) at SHS have been preparing independent projects. In early June, we will present our initiatives to the administration and the Sparta Education Foundation. They range from developing composting systems to creating neural networks, but we have one in particular that needs the SEF's help to make an educational initiative a reality.  

From the recent acquisition of Chromebooks used in AP Bio everyday to the planned expansion of the robotics department, Sparta High School has had an increasing impact on my science-oriented peers. With the creation of the PLTW STEM academy for Sparta’s biomedical and engineering students, a comprehensive science program is essential. 

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But recent developments in biology have made the life sciences program at SHS somewhat outdated. Now, an update is needed. A few years back, scientists discovered the Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR or CRISPR/Cas9 for short) system which has revolutionized the field of biology. Essentially, the system enables researchers to cut, insert, and halt certain genes in an organism with unprecedented accuracy, cost, and efficiency. New avenues for experimental research/treatment on HIV, cancer, malaria, protein functions, etc. are feasible today. As a result, simple gene editing technology is available to schools and low-level laboratories...including Sparta High School. 

Today, CRISPR is nominally present in AP Biology curriculum. Students learn about the technology in part, but they do not experiment or experience it. However, many of these bioscience students post-graduation will be expected in their field to have worked with or at least understand CRISPR biotechnology. Because of its sudden ubiquity, CRISPR is now a permanent implement in labs and biotech/pharmaceutical companies internationally, which begs that we familiarize our biology students with it as early as possible.  

If the SEF could provide for CRISPR technology kits in the classroom, we would truly benefit. We surveyed 151 students and found great interest among them. Of the few students (~20% of the student population) who knew about CRISPR, many were eager to get their hands on the gene editing tech and the experiments themselves.  

After AP exams, there is sufficient time for AP Biology and AP Environmental Science classes to conduct their own CRISPR experiments. A lab costs little time, taking only 1.5 days to complete, so CP/Honors Biology classes can also benefit. I ask the SEF and the SHS science department to please enable us students to experiment with CRISPR kits. There are plenty of different labs we can explore; my AP Bio teacher Kenneth Scognamiglio said that he would be ecstatic to teach with these kits. Even if SHS cannot procure CRISPR kits, we must incorporate CRISPR into the classroom. 

Simon Levien, Sparta