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'Science in Summer' students learn genetics in McKeesport

Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
April Roberson of Carnegie Science Center works with Science in the Summer participants Calise Johnson and Alexis Rodriguez on a genetics project during a Wednesday session at Carnegie Library of McKeesport.

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By Jennifer R. Vertullo
Friday, June 21, 2013, 2:01 a.m.

A group of scientifically minded second- through sixth-graders gathered at Carnegie Library of McKeesport on Thursday and focused their attention on dogs.

Body frames, leg sizes, noses and fur — how many different combinations could there be?

“Everybody is probably wondering what these dogs have to do with science,” 8-year-old Alexis Rodriguez said enthusiastically. “A lot. It's a big deal.”

The dogs' characteristics were the example of inheritable traits in the weeklong GlaxoSmithKline-sponsored “Science in the Summer” program. This year's topic is “Genetics: All About You.”

In 45-minute sessions on Tuesday through Friday, students made bracelets, built family trees, will extract DNA from a strawberry and play genetics-related games.

Participants learned about the study of genes and how they are passed from parents to their offspring. They talked about scientific discoveries in plants and insects that led to discoveries about human genetics.

“Science in the Summer is a cool program for the kids because it introduces science topics to them in a fun way,” children's librarian Jill Morse said. “We are lucky to be able to offer this program in our library so the kids in McKeesport and surrounding communities can enjoy this fun, free activity.”

Through experiments, puzzles and quizzes, participants learned basic genetics principles and vocabulary including cell, chromosome, DNA and gene.

Calise Johnson, 9, of McKeesport said Thursday's dog project was fun.

“We got to pull different strips of paper DNA from bags to put together a dog's body with the traits we chose,” she said. “I liked it.”

April Roberson, a program facilitator from Carnegie Science Center, said children have a genuine interest in genetics.

“Elementary-age kids in general are starting to be curious about why they look a certain way — why they are left-handed and a friend is right-handed, why they wear glasses and a friend may have 20/20 vision,” Roberson said. “At that age, they're starting to identify with themselves ... and they like learning a little about themselves.”

Thanks to recessive traits, Roberson herself looked like an anomaly in her household when she was a child. A fair-skinned strawberry blonde, she is the daughter of two relatively darker-featured parents; but she is the spitting image of a great-grandmother.

Roberson said students often apply classroom genetic lessons to their own families while learning.

At the Friday class, students will receive a certificate of completion at a closing ceremony. Parents are invited to attend.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or

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