MAC Winter 2005 Newsletter
Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom is the grateful recipient of the generosity of so many farms and individuals from across the state. We appreciate the many monetary gifts that support our education programs and also applaud the in-kind contributions. These in-kind gifts are diverse and varied. Here are just a few of the creative ideas that farms and schools have offered to support MAC.
Two years ago, Jan Wentworth at the Warren Farm & Sugar House in North Brookfield came up with an idea to grow heirloom tomatoes to sell as a benefit for MAC. She sowed the seeds and joined with Bemis Farms Nursery to transplant the seedlings into 4-inch pots. Over the past two years she has raised nearly $2,000 for MAC selling these heirlooms at her farm. Burncoat High School students also raised heirloom tomatoes for MAC and gave them to Jan to sell at the farm.Last year MAC President Jim Munger joined the heirloom tomato effort raising hundreds of plants. He gave the plants to farms and schools to sell and return proceeds. Jim plans to offer heirloom tomatoes again in 2005. Allandale Farm in Brookline has hosted a hayride benefit for MAC for several years. Each year, they pick a date, advertise the hayride to farm patrons and contribute all the revenue, amounting to $500 or more yearly. A number of farms and garden centers offer group tours or education pro-grams at their site and donate the honorarium. Other farms and Farmer’s Markets use the MAC counter donation boards, with tear-off sheets, to solicit contributions for MAC from patrons. Each July, Tranquil Lake Nursery in Rehoboth celebrates peak daylily season with a Summer Garden Festival. As many as 2,000 visitors enjoy the daylily fields, gardens, vendors and education programs. A garden raffle and food sales benefit MAC. Raffle items and most food is donated. Especially popular is a refrigerator cart filled with ice cream from Bliss Brothers Dairy in Attleboro. Tranquil Lake also donates daylilies to MAC to offer to donors during fairs and other events.The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources made MAC the beneficiary of the 2005 Massachusetts Agriculture calendar. A raffle is held at the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Meeting. Members donate many wonderful and interesting farm and holiday items and bid generously to support MAC.
We are a small non-profit and we rely on contributions from you to keep our programs vital. Let us know if you have a creative in-kind donation idea of your own. We will be happy to provide publicity for the event.
Happy New Year, Friends of Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom. Our Annual Meeting will be held on February 24, and we are now making plans for the coming year and future growth. Both President Bush and Governor Romney have pledged to strengthen our school programs, especially in math and science. We hope they are sincere and will back up their promises with some real support rather than just slapping another test on the requirements for graduation.
The United States has been referred to as the bread-basket of the world. This has been partly a result of the research money that has been invested in our universities. The result of this research has been the incorporation of new and improved techniques and technology into our food and agriculture production systems. In recent years, some of this support and research has eroded away.
Our competitiveness in science and mathematics, as compared with other developed nations, has declined. The majority of our students in graduate schools are from foreign countries.
We must make our students see and realize the importance of science and technology in our future. Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom has an important role in making that happen. MAC is a respected partner in building a strong educational system. Another important part of our mission is to help maintain our strong grassroots agricultural base as a recognized leader in developing local community spirit.
Our focus continues to be on the future and preparing our younger generations to take our place when we are gone. MAC will continue to provide useful resources to help teachers connect classroom study and our daily lives. We thank all of you who partner with us in this effort and especially celebrate the teachers who are the true link between agriculture and the classroom.
James I. Munger, President
The MAC Mini-Grant program awarded $9,928 in 2004 to support these 17 agricultural education projects. Grants of up to $1,500 are awarded three times a year. Deadlines are April 1, September 1 and November 1. We encourage Massachusetts educators to submit proposals. Click here for more details about these and other mini-grant award winners and Mini-Grant guidelines.
“4-H Embryology Project” $750
Plymouth County Extension, Hanson
“Farming Past and Present” $340
Atkinson School, North Andover
“Got Cheese Got Cheese” $700
Lively Spring Farm, Rowe
“Inch by Inch and Hoe by Hoe” $500
The Common School, Amherst
“Operation Apple Grow” $360
Burbank Child Devel. Center, Fitchburg
“Teen Apprentice Program” $750
The Farm School, Athol
April Funding Total $3,400
“Apples - The Field Trip for Grade 2” $461
Dr. William Arnone School, Brockton
“Botany in the Inner City Classroom” $375
Springfield Central High School
“Agricultural Enrichment” $600
Helen James School, Williamsburg
“Good Dirt” $600
Quincy High School
“Apples: Field Trip for K & Grade 1” $165
Robert Frost School, Lawrence
“Science & People Behind Our Bread” $785
Four Rivers Charter School, Greenfield
September Funding Total $2,986
“Growth All Around Us” $500
The Demonstration School, Lowell
“Lifecycles: Embryology” $242
Indian Head School, Hanson
“Cranberries on Mars” $250
St. Margaret Reg. School, Buzzards Bay
“Spring Farm Days for A Special
Worcester Classroom” $1,050 Worcester 4-H & Forest Grove Middle School, Worc.
“Lettuce Take Thyme” $1,500
Dartmouth Middle School
November Funding Total $3,542
Total 2004 Mini-Grant Awards $9,928
Nearly 20 years ago, the Massachusetts Lottery became part of the Massachusetts Building at Eastern States Exposition. The Department of Agricultural Resources designated MAC as the beneficiary of the Lottery vendor space at “The Big E.” Since then, MAC has received a generous check annually that helps us to offset some of the costs of our mini-grants and educational programs. We thank the Lottery and the Department for making this possible.
For the past two years, MAC Board members and friends have joined Lottery staff at “The Big E” in order to keep the contributions coming. One loyal volunteer is Bernie Kobel, who spends several days at “The Big E” Lottery booth each September. Bernie is also a part-time employee at Sam’s Club in Worcester. His donation of 25 hours of volunteer time to MAC was matched by his employer with a $300 check. We appreciate his enthusiasm.
Bernie Kobel presents Marjorie Cooper with a $300 matching check from his employer for his volunteer time with MAC at “The Big E.”
In November, the MAC Mini-Grant Program received a $7,500 grant from the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture. Since the Mini-Grant Program was founded in 1994, it has awarded more than $150,000 to 180 teachers and schools across the state for their agricultural education project. Mini-grant chair Gus Skamarycz expressed the gratitude of the Committee and MAC to the Society for this important donation that will help us to support even more agricultural initiatives.
by Kim Pond UMass Extension CFY Program
What is DNA?
DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) is a molecule that carries the information necessary for us to live, as we develop from a single, fertilized egg cell into an adult human having literally trillions of cells. Our genetic information (DNA) makes us all different, yet is also responsible for the many common elements we share as humans. In fact a very small number (0.1%) of the DNA letters differ between any two human genomes. (An exception is identical twins, who share 100% of the same DNA.)
Genes are the physical elements responsible for inherited traits. Genes are made of segments of DNA and are found in the chromosomes of the cell. There are between 50,000 and 100,000 genes in every living organism. Genes influence development and determine characteristics of organisms, such as hair color, height and even the ability to curl the tongue. They do this by influencing chemical and physical processes during growth and aging. A genotype is the distinct and unique combination of genes in an organism.
Genes are the means of passing on traits (physical characteristics) to the next generation. Traits can be as simple as eye color or as complex as susceptibility to disease. When genes act they are “expressed,” and traits are the result of gene expression.
Heredity is the passing on of traits from parents to offspring. Humans have two of every kind of gene, one from their mother and one from their father. Only one gene from each parent is passed to each offspring for a particular trait. There are different forms of a gene that are referred to as alleles. Some alleles are dominant while others are recessive.
Dominant genes overpower recessive genes and are always expressed in offspring. Recessive genes are only expressed in offspring if both parents contribute a recessive gene. In human eye color, the gene for brown eyes is dominant and the gene for blue eyes is recessive. Therefore, if you received a brown-eye gene from either one of your parents, you will have brown eyes.
Gregor Mendel’s studies of heredity in pea plants form the foundations of genetics, the scientific study of heredity. In Mendel’s experiments there were two alleles for the pod color of peas: green and yellow, where the green color (B) is the dominant allele and the yellow color (b) is recessive.
Each pea plant inherits two alleles, one from each parent. If a plant has one allele for green pod color and one for yellow, the dominant green allele will be expressed. Although the yellow allele isn’t expressed it is still part of the pea plant’s DNA and could be passed along to its offspring.
Here are the possible combinations a pea plant might have and the resulting expression: BB - green; Bb - green; or bb yellow. In the second example, the plant has one allele for green and one for yellow, so the dominant green color is expressed. However, the yellow allele could be passed on to offspring.
Probability is the chance that something will happen. Punnet square boxes are used to show the possible combination (offspring) from a cross between two individuals. If we want yellow pods, but do not have any yellow plants, we could cross two pea plants that have green pods, but have the recessive allele for yellow.
Bb x Bb
Parent B b B BB Bb b Bb bb
We would have 75% chance of having green pods and 25% chance of having yellow pods.
The trait for pod color is a simple trait that is controlled by one gene. Things such as skin color in humans and egg color in chickens are considered complex traits because they are controlled by more than one gene.
Genetics in Agriculture
We are able to grow plants and animals with particular characteristics through genetics. It has been used for centuries in agriculture to produce better crops and breeds of animals using selective breeding. Early farmers had to plant a dozen or more varieties of each crop so at least something would make it to harvest through drought, flood or disease or anything else that happened during the growing season.
Researchers who are looking to raise plants or animals for specific traits will follow crosses and generations, keeping records so they can produce individuals that might be more appealing to consumers, have a higher yield or are more disease resistant.
If a farmer desires the expression of a trait that is recessive, the farmer must either work with plants that have both recessive alleles or work with plants that have at least one recessive allele so that some of the offspring will have the desired trait.
Some improved crop varieties produce more food on less land. This is an important improvement in today’s world, with the human population increasing and the amount of available land for food production decreasing. Other improved varieties offer more nutrients or are more resistant to insects and diseases.
Selective breeding has seen many advances in productivity, such as disease resistance, but it has also led to a decrease in genetic diversity, as breeders focus primarily on crosses between those of a highly favorable quality such as large breasts in turkey. (Elite x elite crosses). Genetic diversity is important for future response to selective pressures such as new diseases and genetic soundness. The absence of genetic diversity can have consequences such as epidemics and diseases.
One way to protect genetic diversity is through gene banks, wild relatives and heirloom/heritage breeds. Plant and animal breeders need the genetic material found in wild and heirloom plants and breeds to improve the crops and livestock that provide us with food.
In 1970, an outbreak of southern corn leaf blight destroyed a large portion of the American corn crop. By the following year, American farmers were able to buy varieties that were resistant to this disease. Using genetic materials from gene banks in the U.S., Argentina, Hungary and Yugoslavia, plant breeders had developed resistant hybrids before planting time the following spring.
An important way to protect genetic diversity is through gene banks. Collections of seeds and plant material are housed in gene banks all over the world. These banks provide plant breeders with materials they need to improve food crop varieties.
A gene bank is a place where seeds are preserved under dry, cool conditions and where other plant material are stored in test tubes or in field collections. Gene banks store samples of primitive or traditional plant varieties, more recent varieties that are no longer in use, and related wild species. Field gene banks are natural preserves where plants, including their wild relatives, are maintained in their natural habitats.
One of the first gene banks was founded by the Russian scientist Nikolai I. Vavilov. He was interested in the potential of wild relatives of crop species to improve agriculture. During the 1920s and 1930s, he conducted plant-hunting trips in the former USSR and in more than 50 countries in Asia, the Americas, northern Africa and Europe. By 1941, he had collected more than 187,000 specimens, including more than 50,000 seed samples of wheat, rye, oats, peas, lentils, beans, chickpeas and maize.
This important collection nearly perished during the 880 day siege of Leningrad during World War II. When shelling began, institute workers duplicated the most important specimens fearing they might be destroyed. When winter arrived, there was little food and nothing with which to heat the buildings that were left standing at the institute. To heat the basement where the potatoes were stored, workers burned boxes, paper, cardboard and debris from the other buildings. Though half-frozen and starved, they continued to guard the specimens. At least nine scientists and workers died from starvation rather than nibble away at the precious seeds.
Vavilov also helped form a network of 400 research laboratories. Today these gene banks hold more than 380,000 seed samples from 180 locations across the globe. Some important locations are: National Seed Storage Laboratory, Colorado; Nat-ion al Small Grains Collection, Idaho; Ethiopian Seed Bank; Peru Seed Bank; International Center for Improvement of Maize and Wheat, Mexico City, and International Board for Plant Genetics Resources, Rome.
Local northeastern organizations actively engaged with Heritage Seeds and Breeds include: Massachusetts 4-H Heritage Breed club; NE Heritage Breeds Conservancy; Plimoth Plantation; Old Sturbridge Village; Cabbage Hill Farm and Swiss Village Farm.
A look at DNA fingerprints
Time: 30-45 minutes Group Size: 5 to 50 suggested Introduce to Group: Introduce the activity of making a DNA fingerprint. Ask the group what they know about DNA and fingerprints. (They may come up with a variety of answers: that DNA is a building code; Deoxyribonucleic acid and that fingerprints are unique to each person, have loops, circles, etc.) You may ask if they have ever looked at their own fingerprint. If you have paint or ink pads available you can have students make a fingerprint and compare with others in the group.) From the introductory material you learned that only about .1% of DNA makes up genes that are expressed as traits.Ask what is a trait and list some on the board or on a large piece of paper. Tell them that by looking at their own physical traits they will make a DNA fingerprint model. This activity helps demonstrate that our DNA is unique and that our DNA contains the information/genes that when expressed help make us unique and some we can visually see that leads to the diversity we see around us. Goals:
- Be able to verbally express what a DNA fingerprint is and represents
- Connect physical traits to gene expression
- Understand DNA contains information on traits
- Complete a model DNA fingerprint and compare/contrast with others in the group
- Compare models and bands to a real DNA fingerprint
• Copies of the trait grid
• Copies of Size Sorting Template
• Graphing paper
- Make sure the youth mark all the places on the paper strips where they plan to cut their DNA before they actually cut the strips. (It is easier to work with one long strip than many smaller ones).
- You may want the youth to compare their strips before cutting.
- This activity raises many topics for discussion: impact of DNA fingerprinting on forensics and the legal system in America; genetic privacy and more.
1. Enter your traits in the grid above, selecting them from the list below. (See example in next table)
- Sex: male or female
- Eye color: blue, brown, hazel or green
- Ear lobes: free or attached
- Hairline: widow’s peak or no widow’s peak
- Little finger: bent or straight
- Chin: dimples or no dimples
- Tongue: roller or no roller
- Skin: freckles or no freckles
Spelling counts. Please proofread! Punctuation also counts! No spaces between words. You should have one continuous set of traits, something like this:
F E M A L E B L U E F R E E W I D O W P E A K B E N T D I M P L E S R O L L E R F R E C K L E S
2. Cut out your traits along the heavy black lines and then tape them together, end-to-end. You should have one long strip with all your trait words in a row, no spaces between any letters. Cut off and discard any empty boxes at the end.
3. Now, mark and then cut your traits between the following letters. Cut only when the letters occur in the order shown, not the reverse order:
E-M E-E B-R E-N T-T S-P G-H O-D O-F F-R N-R E-W
4. Arrange your cut traits by length and compare with your classmates! (Use sorting template or graph paper).
20+ 19 18 ...
- What do the words you placed in the grid/template represents? (Traits)
- Why are the strips of different length? (It depends on the letters present and cuts made.)
- How does your DNA fingerprint model compare to others in the group? How does it differ?
- How does your DNA fingerprint model compare to a real DNA fingerprint?
Apply: Debrief how it worked.
- Would you get the same results with another group? Why?
- What impact does DNA finger-printing have on forensics and the legal system in America?
- If you have duplicates - how can we change this activity?
- What is the effect of class size? What if 50, 500, 5,000 tried it?
- Have the youth try to design this activity for an animal. For example sheep: sex, legs (knock kneed, bent or correct), white or black face, open or closed face, prick or lop eared, polled or horned, coat color, coat wool, or hair, jaw. (Guidelines on breeds, purchasing or judging for conformation are good sources of traits.)
- Select an animal/species (cat, cow) Choose 6-10 visual/physical traits Decide on cuts for your “molecular scissors.”
- Try it out and modify it as needed using your own pet, project animals or even pictures.
Visit some of the web sites listed for more information on heredity and try some crosses of your own or check out one of the books listed. An interesting plant to research on how it has changed is corn, which was just a plain grass (maize) with only a few kernels and now there are many on an ear of corn. Here are just a few of the topics you may want to investigate:
- Dairy cattle with a higher milk yield
- Higher yield per acre of crops
- Crops more resistant to disease
- Grafting of one species of apple on root stock of another
- Turkey with more white meat
- Plants that can grow in space - see http://science.nasa.gov/
- The Waltham butternut squash
- Genetic studies of seed potatoes by Luther Burbank
- Heritage breeds
- Heirloom seeds
- Dairy cattle cloning - UMass in 90s
- Genome project of soybeans, dogs
- Genetically modified foods (fish genes in plants for omega fatty oils)
- Animal and plant biosecurity
- Brainstorm growing conditions in your area that affect plant growth.
- Research the Irish Potato Famine of the late 1840s.
- Make a list of all the food plants you can think of and count them. What percentage is this of the approximately 10,000 edible plants available to us?
Materials: seeds, ziplock bags, soil and pots, access to freezer.
1. Have each student put bean, pea, radish or clover seeds into two baggies and place one baggy in a freezer and the other in a room where it will not be disturbed. Leave the baggies in place for a week.
2. After a week, have students plant the seeds. Label the one stored in the freezer frozen and the other one room temperature. Have students observe and record the sprouting resulting.
3. After the seeds have been planted for a week, ask students to share their observations. Which seeds broke the soil first? Did the frozen seeds suffer any visible effects when a plant emerged? (Most dry seeds are not damaged by freezing, even after long periods of time.)
4. Review genetics with students and write the following terms on the chalkboard: gene; gene pools; genotype; genetic erosion; gene bank; hybrid; plant breeder. Discuss their meanings.
Materials: 2 paper bags, 8 small pieces of paper (B for brown eyes written on four, b for blue eyes written on four)
1. Discuss genes with students using the brown-eye/blue-eye example. Each parent has two genes for eye color and will pass on only one of these genes. In this demonstration: Mom has the genes “Bb,” and Dad has the genes “bb.” The child will receive “Bb” or “bb” and has a 50% chance of brown eyes (Bb) and a 50% chance of blue eyes (bb).
2. Draw a Punnet Square on the blackboard to represent parental traits and the chances of inheriting traits.
3. Label one paper bag “Mom” and the other “Dad.” Write “B” on four slips of paper and “b” on the other four slips. Turn the slips over and mix them up. Randomly select two slips and place them in the bag labeled “Mom.” Place two slips in the bag labeled “Dad.”
4. The slips in each bag represent the eye-color genes the parents have.
5. Let a students draw the genes from each bag to determine the eye-color genes of each parent. Take these genes and make a Punnet Square to determine the eye color possibilities of the child.
The “Green Genes - DNA Project” is a multi-media educational project for middle-school age youth in non-formal educational settings. It is being developed by UMass Extension staff in conjunction with UMass faculty.
The first unit was piloted in 2004. It focuses on learning the basics of DNA. Units II and III then take the basics to go further into how genes work, and how DNA and genes tie into agriculture. It also offers a look at careers and critical thinking. In this newsletters you will be able to learn more about the content included in this project and try a sample activity. A full-day workshop will be offered on April 9 for middle and high school teachers.
Using the Human Genome as an example, lets compare it to the English language. DNA is our name for the language in which genetic information is written, stored and manipulated by living things in a molecular language.
The molecular language has its simplicities and complexities. DNA words, for example, are always three letters long compared to English language words which vary greatly in length and only have four characters whereas in the English language there are 26. However, DNA sentences can be thousands of words long. These molecular sentences, better known as genes, are bundled together in a book and are “read” by cellular machinery that interprets nd carries out the instructions.
Letters Bases 3 billion
(Actually 3.2 billion)
Word Codons 1 billion Instructions Genes 30,000 Books/Volumes Chromosomes 23 Master Plan Genome 1
Museum of Science
Boston, MA 02114
web site: www.mos.org
UMass Extension Child, Family & Youth
237 Chandler Street
Worcester, MA 01609-2935
508- 831-1223 ext. 245
web site: www.umassextension.org
From Genes to Jeans: An Activity-Based Unit on Genetic Engineering and Agriculture
Horse Genetics & More
Wheat Germ DNA Extraction by Judy Brown & Introduction to DNA Extractions by Lana Hays at www.accessexcellence.com
DNA Articles on Turkeys
The Biology Project (Several pieces in Spanish)
A Quick Dip in the Gene Pool, integrated study of agri-food biotechnology. Alberta Agriculture, Food & Rural Development. 2nd F, 700-113 St. Edmonton, Alberta T6H 5T6 (403) 427-2171.
21st Century Science: Genetics by Moira Butterfield
50 Years of DNA by Julie Clayton and Carina Dennis
A Guide to Food and Fiber Systems Literacy: A compendium of Standards, Benchmarks, and Instructional Materials for Grades K-12 Oklahoma State University, 1998
Future Dog: Breeding for Genetic Soundness by Patricia J. Wilke
Kids, Crops and Critters in the Classroom: Resource Guide for Teachers Grade 4-6 Illinois Farm Bureau, 2000 Some activities and text adapted from the resources listed above. Information for this newsletter was taken from the resources listed above.
Mission: Massachusetts Agriculture ion the Classroom is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) educational organization with the mission to foster an awareness and learning in all areas related to the food and agriculture industries and the economic and social importance of agriculture to the state national and the world.