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Community Engagement Incentive Grant: Alice Layton

What’s in your football field? A high school outreach program using DNA sequencing as a tool to explore unseen microbial diversity in soils

Alice Layton

Alice Layton

Alice Layton,  research Associate Professor for the Center for Environmental Biotechnology, worked with Oak Ridge High school teacher Sharon Thomas to turn the popular grass landscape known as ‘the high school football field’  into a unique research site, as well.

Students from Oak Ridge, Sevier County, and Knox County High Schools collected soil from their different fields and then brought these samples to UT’s Center for Environmental Biotechnology to achieve a hands-on understanding of soil microbial diversity using high-technology DNA sequencing.

Photo by Bill Dockery, Communications Coordinator for the Office of Research & Engagement

Each high school student was paired with a UT undergraduate or graduate student.  They learned basic laboratory techniques while also participating in generating real data that will be published in real, scholarly journals.

State-of-the-art DNA sequencing data generated from the soil samples will be publishable in a scientific journal.  UT researchers will also evaluate the potential for publishing the protocol and method of engaging precollegiate students in an education journal.

By making this data publicly accessible and publicizing the protocol,  UT hopes to encourage similar, university-high school collaborations  across the country to contribute their own data to generate a large database of the microbial communities in soils.

Photo by Bill Dockery, Communications Coordinator for the Office of Research & Engagement

Layton noticed an additional benefit  of the personal attention paid to each student by an undergraduate or graduate student.

In addition to being assured that each step of the protocol was properly performed,  the younger students actively engaged their elders in lively discussion aimed at generating additional data:  the real skinny on upcoming college applications and university classes!