HHS hosts biotech symposium

Abby Hissong, Editor-in-Chief

On Friday March 20, students from across the state came to Harrisonburg High School to attend the annual Shenandoah Valley Biotechnology Symposium. Even though the division’s schools were closed Friday, Harrisonburg High School was still buzzing with biology students. They were there to get hands-on experience in the lab as part of the 22nd annual SVBS, co-hosted by the Governor’s STEM Academy and HHS biology teacher, Myron Blosser.

Biotechnology uses DNA and molecules as tools to make advancements in fields like food production and medicine. James Madison University is in the top 35 schools for students studying the subject according to StateUniversity.com, and both Virginia Tech and Bridgewater College have growing programs in the field.

Though some schools had to cancel due to inclement weather, the total turnout was somewhere around 500 students from schools around the Valley, including Turner Ashby, Broadway and Eastern Mennonite high schools.

At the symposium, students were given the opportunity to listen to presentations given by William Nierman of the J. Craig Venter Institute, a center in Rockville, Maryland that focuses on genetic research, and James Madison University biology professor, Raymond Enke. The students were put into groups, and then sent to separate labs around the school where they performed different experiments based on their level of knowledge.

Kristi De-Courcy of the Fralin Life Science Institute at Virginia Tech taught students to isolate the genetically modified ingredients in common snack foods. HHS AP biology students, Rozda Askari and Paul Weiss, were excited to sample Fritos corn chips and Trix cereal.

Askari, 18, a senior, and Weiss, 17, a junior, said they were excited to attend the symposium, as they had studied biotechnology in their classes and were now getting to deal with it in a hands-on format.

“By attracting good, high quality students to study molecular biology and then to go into a biotech related field, new technologies, medicines, improved health care and easier access to products, will be produced and we’ll be here to reap the benefits,” said Blosser.