You can’t get blood from a stone, but apparently it’s pretty easy to get DNA from a strawberry.
Crimebusters! took place May 2 at the Veterans Tribute Career Technical Academy, 2531 Vegas Drive, and showed kids and their parents not only how to extract DNA from a strawberry but also how facial reconstruction is used to help identify victims from skeletal remains, how to dust for fingerprints, how to use a microscope and several other ways science helps investigators solve crimes.
The program was one of the Science is Everywhere events that took place across the valley April 29 to May 7 as part of this year’s annual Las Vegas Science and Technology Festival.
The Crimebusters! event took place in the school’s gymnasium with stations circling the edge of the room and experts and people who work on forensic science manning each station.
“The Clark County Coroner’s Office is showing students and the public how facial reconstructionists work with skulls to approximate what the person looked like when alive and hopefully identify the person,” said Scott Lautzenheiser, a coroner investigator for the county. “Anthropologists have done studies on tissue depth of the faces of males and females, and markers are placed on key points of the skull and clay is built up to that depth.”
At the event, students were given a small plastic skull, and they tried their hands at applying clay to it.
“These days, we also can do a CT (computerized tomography) scan and use a computer to model the face from the skull,” Lautzenheiser said. “We do lose weight and gain weight and age, so there is some artistic interpretation involved.”
The DNA demonstration was one of the most popular stations at the event, not only because it was the first thing visitors saw when they came in but also because it demonstrated practical science with household products in a quick and decisive manner. Also, some of the kids got to squish strawberries.
“Every living thing has DNA,” explained Crystal May, a forensic scientist with the biology and DNA detail of the Metropolitan Police Department’s forensic laboratory. “What we’re doing here is separating the DNA so it can be sequenced and identified.”
First, the student scientists squished a strawberry inside a zip-close bag into liquid mush. That mush was then placed on a filter until a few drops of liquid strawberry could be extracted and placed in a test tube. A precipitate was added to separate the DNA from the solution.
“This is just household salt and dishwashing liquid,” May said as she added the precipitate. “It just takes a few seconds for it to start working, and now we have a DNA phlegm ball.”
The clump of whitish mucus-like DNA formed between the strawberry juice and salt and dishwater solution. It was easily extracted from the test tube, and the kids leaned in to see it on the end of a plastic eyedropper.
Matthew Scholten watched as his son Elias made a fingerprint and dusted it with black powder. The powder was then lifted with adhesive tape and transferred to a card.
“This is the third year we’ve done this,” the science teacher from Desert Rose High School said. “The science is solid, and the kids are having fun and learning. I really enjoy that.”
To reach East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor, email email@example.com or call 702-380-4532.