The Amgen TransferCiència program connects scientists and Valencian students through genetics and biotechnology

The educational program to promote learning and scientific vocations in biotechnology and genetics Amgen TransferCiència has started its fifth edition in the Valencian Community this February (2023-2024 academic year). Five researchers, three women and two men, will carry out master classes and practical workshops for 140 students from 4th year of ESO and 1stand 2nd year of Baccalaureate from 5 educational centres in the Valencian Community (4 in the province of Valencia and 1 in Alicante).

The program, organised by the biotechnology company Amgen and the Catalan Foundation for Research and Innovation (FCRI in its Catalan acronym), aims to improve science learning, with a special focus on biotechnology and genetics.

The Amgen TransferCiència team for this edition is made up of Cecilia Picazo, Alba Arévalo and Víctor Garrigós, from the Institute of Integrative Systems Biology (I²SysBio), from the CSIC-University of Valencia; Belén Llobregat, from the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA-CSIC), and Borja Sáez de la Fuente, from the Institute of Biomedicine of Valencia (IBV-CSIC).

The program trains researchers because it presents students with learning situations that connect with real-life contexts, with the aim of fostering vocations in biotechnology and genetics. The activities will take place in the centres of the city of Valencia (3); La Eliana (Valencia) and Teulada (Alicante).

The researchers propose scenarios that connect different blocks of the curriculum, such as health and disease, immunology and genetics, and evolution in ESO; and knowledge of genetics, immunology, biotechnology and evolution in high school, with their research fields. Thus, the students not only expand and consolidate their knowledge in the fields of genetics and biotechnology, but the program also allows them to have a real vision of science and the figure of the researcher.

Present for the fifth consecutive year in the Valencian Community, Amgen TransferCiència is a state-wide project with five editions of its history. In this course, coverage has been extended at state level, and has reached 31 locations in Catalonia, Community of Madrid, Community of Valencia, Balearic Islands and Galicia.

The total scientific team is made up of 34 researchers (32% postdoctoral researchers, 65% predoctoral researchers and 3% senior researchers), 76% of whom are women, who will collaborate with 35 school centres in these 5 autonomous communities.In addition, the program offers students the possibility to participate in a scientific communication competition, in which they can present a 2-minute video in which they explain a concept learned or the result of the practical workshop.

See and experience science research in the classroom

The activities include experimental sessions in classrooms applied to different topics in the biotechnological field, with the support of the use of ELISA kits (enzyme immunoassays of absorption), for the detection and quantification of specific substances in biological samples, such as proteins , antibodies and markers; PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to detect genetically modified organisms, and the electrophoresis technique to separate and isolate DNA, RNA or protein molecules depending on their size and electrical charge.

"Putting the students in contact with the researcher and explaining, in a close way, the main current issues and the work techniques of biotechnology is a very effective formula to orient the interest and the professional future of young people towards science in general", explains Víctor Garrigós, from the Institute of Integrative Biology of Systems (I²SysBio), of the CSIC-University of Valencia, member of Amgen TransferCiència, who will develop his practical class and workshop at IES 26 Misericordia from Valencia. In his opinion, "knowing first-hand the advances we are making in genetics and biotechnology and their real projection is a very effective formula to stimulate the interest of the students".

Alba Arévalo (I2SysBio - CSIC - UV)

"What is invisible to the eyes"

Educational centre: IES Teulada, Teulada (Alicante), February 2

Until the twentieth century, it was believed that the presence of microorganisms in the human body only generated infections and diseases. With microbiota analyses, we know that half of our cells are human and the other half are bacterial. In the theoretical session, concepts of basic microbiology, human microbiota, probiotics and their relationship with people’s health will be discussed. In practice, the development of a probiotic vaccine will be considered, using microbiology, synthetic biology and immunology techniques, and the use of an ELISA kit.

Belén Llobregat (IATA)

"Detection of Genetically Modified Organisms by PCR"

IES Patraix (Valencia), March 1

In the theoretical and practical session, we will start by explaining the general bases of biotechnology. Next, the hands-on workshop will put students in the role of a researcher at a biotechnology company specialising in food safety who must detect potential genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and transgenics in a batch with real samples from 4 different crops of tomatoes To do this, they will carry out practices with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) kits and agarose gel electrophoresis techniques.

Borja Sáez de la Fuente (IBV-CSIC)

"Looking for a needle in a haystack. Is it as difficult as it seems?"

IES Eliana, L’Eliana (Valencia), March 26

The students are part of a supposed laboratory that has a technique to detect the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A supermarket hires them to identify GMO products. At the beginning of the theoretical class, they will be presented with the situation, and from here they will be introduced to basic aspects related to genetic engineering and its different applications. In the practical workshop, they must be able to establish a protocol to carry out the task that has been set for them by applying a PCR kit for the detection of GMOs.

Víctor Garrigós Contelles (I2SysBio - CSIC - UV)

"Restriction enzymes in biotechnology"

Educational centre: IES 26 Misericérdia (Valencia), March 26

Positioned as potential researchers at a biotech company that offers a la carte analytical services, students will perform agarose gel electrophoresis on a sample to determine whether restriction enzymes have been isolated and purified (proteins isolated from bacteria that cut DNA sequences), which have digested the DNA of a bacteriophage virus and a plasmid (a small circular DNA molecule found in bacteria and other microscopic organisms). The activity reviews the historical and technological evolution of biotechnology, focusing on restriction enzymes.

Cecilia Picazo Campos (I2SysBio - CSIC - UV)

"In search of the killer"

Parc Col·legi Santa Ana (Valencia), pending date (February or April)

The activity presupposes that there has been a murder. Biological samples of the murderer are found at the crime scene. With these samples, the students will be able to extract the DNA, amplify it, separate it, visualise it and compare it with other samples to determine, of the three possible suspects, who is the culprit.

About FCRI

The Catalan Foundation for Research and Innovation (FCRI) disseminates research and innovation among society to promote scientific culture, scientific and technical vocations among young people and entrepreneurship and public-private collaboration in R&I.

About Amgen

Amgen is a pioneering biotechnology company committed to harnessing the full potential of biology for those patients with serious illnesses by discovering, developing, manufacturing and providing innovative human treatments. The approach begins with using tools such as advanced human genetics to uncover the complexities of disease and understand the fundamentals of human biology. Amgen focuses on areas of high unmet medical need and leverages its expertise in biologics manufacturing to deliver solutions that improve health outcomes and improve people’s lives.