Mystery at high school solved thanks to DNA

First Posted: 4/26/2009

Shock and outrage rumbled through the community last week, when North Surry High Schools mascot the Greyhound was taken, apparently by someone from a rival high school.
But, evidence was quickly discovered and the suspect found.
At least that was the story in Angie Caves biomedical technology class at North Surry last week as the students marked National DNA Day.
Cave recruited two scientists from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical School to walk her students through a mock investigation to solve the fictional crime on Friday, leading them to deduce what had happened, and who had committed the crime, using DNA evidence.
The students were given a list of suspects that read like a Whos Who from a rival school, including the captain of the football team, the class valedictorian, the homecoming queen, the senior class president, the lead actress in a school play, the drum major and the head cheerleader.
The class was then given the suspects DNA to compare with that of the suspected students. After only few minutes, the students were able to determine that Vince, the rival high schools drum major, was the culprit.
These all made good suspects because they are all really involved with school spirit, said Dr. Megan Rudoch, a biochemistry engineer with the Winston-Salem teaching hospital.
Rudoch posed the question to the students, Do you think it is fair that the entire senior class was asked to give a DNA sample?
The class answered yes.
Then she asked, Even if there was no probable cause or if they werent in school that day?
The students didnt all agree with this question.
Do you think they should start with the most likely suspects? Rudoch asked. The class overwhelming agreed.
Heres something to think about. Do you think mistakes could be made? What if the wrong name was written on the tube? Do you think this is positive evidence that this person is 100 percent at fault? Rudoch continued.
A student asked the scientists what happens in the case of identical twins. Rudochs teaching assistant, Caitrin McDonough, answered that even though identical twin DNA is the same, there are toxin screening tests that could determine if one or the other was taking vitamins or supplements and that could show the difference between the two.
There are many variables we can look at, McDonough explained.
Rudoch followed up, A complete DNA profile is unique to one in 100 billion people. When DNA is used properly, it is really likely that you will find your suspect.
Another ethical question was posed to the students. Rudoch explained that P53 is a cancer gene that everyone carries. It is a tumor suppresser. She said typically the gene is supposed to fight off cancer, but for some people the gene mutates and 50 to 60 percent of people end up having cancer because of that mutation. He said it can be caused by heat, radiation or any number of reasons.
While the students agreed that if they could find out ahead of time they were going to get cancer, they would want to know, Rudoch pointed out that if that were possible, insurance companies could increase rates or cancel them altogether.
It really is a moral issue, Rudoch said.
In addition to the scientists visit, Cave said the students also have spent time learning with Det. James Turner with the Surry County Sheriffs Office. She said a couple of weeks ago he taught students how to collect evidence, fingerprint, recreate the scene of the crime and collect DNA samples.
On Friday, though, they not only got to evaluate DNA, but they were also posed with ethical questions relating to various uses of DNA science.
Contact Mondee Tilley at [email protected] or at 719-1930.

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