Ashland High School students played sleuth this week to learn about real-life applications of DNA analysis.

Freshmen and sophomores in Todd Hobein's biology classes made up their own crime and evidence, but also cast a list of suspects and analyzed their DNA through a high-tech process known as electrophoresis.

"Most of the stuff you learn, it's like 'Yeah, that's great, but what do you do with it?'" said Zach Markovich, a freshman in Hobein's class. "This is something they actually use."

The lab ended a unit on genetics and DNA, learning what it's made of, where it's found in the cell and how it's used. Before the lab began, Hobein explained that scientists use DNA to solve crimes involving not only human remains, but also in crimes involving animals like those investigated across town at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Lab, or even to determine the success of an organ transplant or identify species of fruit.

Students devised scenarios of stolen crown jewels, giraffes missing from the zoo, an assault with DNA of the suspect found under the victim's fingernails, even the theft of Russian nuclear weapons.

"It's so much more fun than reading out of a textbook," said Maraya Best, a sophomore member of the group hunting down the nuclear weapons thief.

Her group all agreed that previous experiments the class had performed paled in comparison to analyzing DNA to nab criminals.

"Those were really boring," said freshman Anya Ludwig. "This is really fun."

The Ashland Schools Foundation provided a grant to buy the materials for the lab, including gel trays and a power box to run the DNA analysis. Students learned how to use micropipettes to deposit DNA samples into gels, then watched as electricity forced the DNA into unique stripe patterns across the gel, allowing them to solve their crimes.

"Most classes can only talk about it, but because of the Ashland Schools Foundation, I can do it," Hobein said. "None of this would have happened without the foundation."

During the lab, students also realized some of the problems with DNA analysis. Markovich and his partner Dusty Standish accidentally switched two of their samples as they were solving the crime of the stolen crown jewels

"Now, if you go to court, the lab report might get thrown out," Hobein explained to the pair. "You've got to take that risk."

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