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  Friday June 11, 2004

Biotech Program Cloned

By Yunmi Choi, Daily Journal Staff
In a San Mateo High School science lab this past year, students searched their own DNA samples for a genetic mutation that occurred in China millions of years ago. When teacher Ellyn Daugherty asked students who found the mutation to stand up, the class burst into laughter when all those standing were of Chinese descent.
It is just this type of experiment that draws flocks of students to the popular biotechnology program, which Daugherty spearheaded in 1988. The homegrown program began as a single semester class, but has since mushroomed into 11 courses.
It also serves as the model for 70 teachers in six different states.
For her efforts, Daugherty this week received the first National Biotechnology Teacher-Leader Award, beating out candidates from across the United States and Canada.
What really gets kids hooked on biotech is the idea that it has the power to change lives, Daugherty said. Many of the treatments for cancer and diabetes are products of biotechnology ó a fact that hits home for a lot of students.
"Every student has a relative with a disease that was made not as bad because of a biotechnology product," Daugherty said.
That's just what interested student Aylene Bao in the field.
"It's interesting because it's about creating a better life for people," she said. "DNA makes up everything and can change everything."
After taking an introductory course her sophomore year, Bao was hooked.
"The course isn't as textbook-style as a lot of high school classes," Bao said. "There are more labs and hands-on experience."
In her three years taking biotech classes, Bao has extracted DNA from plant cells, synthesized protein and studied bacteria cultures. She's also interned at Applied Biosystems in Foster City, where she worked in the quality control department. Bao hopes to land a job there one day.
For now, she's off to Santa Clara University where she'll major in biotechnology.
Meanwhile, 200 students out of a student body of 1,500 were enrolled in San Mateo High's biotech program this year. That's pretty remarkable for a class that is considered an elective, Daugherty said. In fact, it is in such demand that kids throughout the district's other five high schools are fighting to get in.
And the need to expand the program is clear.
As it changes from a research to a manufacturing industry, Daugherty said biotech is calling for workers of all stripes.
"In the old days they just needed science nerds," she said. "Now they need everyone from lab technicians to people in the business side and the administrative side."
Yunmi Choi can be reached by e-mail at or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 109. What do you think of this story? Send a letter to the editor:

© 2004 San Mateo Daily Journal