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Friday June 11, 2004
Yunmi Choi, Daily Journal Staff
In a San Mateo High School science lab this past year,
students searched their own DNA samples for a genetic
mutation that occurred in China millions of years ago. When
teacher Ellyn Daugherty asked students who found the
mutation to stand up, the class burst into laughter when all
those standing were of Chinese descent.
It is just this type of experiment that draws flocks of
students to the popular biotechnology program, which
Daugherty spearheaded in 1988. The homegrown program began
as a single semester class, but has since mushroomed into 11
It also serves as the model for 70 teachers in six different
For her efforts, Daugherty this week received the first
National Biotechnology Teacher-Leader Award, beating out
candidates from across the United States and Canada.
What really gets kids hooked on biotech is the idea that it
has the power to change lives, Daugherty said. Many of the
treatments for cancer and diabetes are products of
biotechnology ó a fact that hits home for a lot of
"Every student has a relative with a disease that was made
not as bad because of a biotechnology product," Daugherty
That's just what interested student Aylene Bao in the
"It's interesting because it's about creating a better life
for people," she said. "DNA makes up everything and can
After taking an introductory course her sophomore year, Bao
"The course isn't as textbook-style as a lot of high school
classes," Bao said. "There are more labs and hands-on
In her three years taking biotech classes, Bao has extracted
DNA from plant cells, synthesized protein and studied
bacteria cultures. She's also interned at Applied Biosystems
in Foster City, where she worked in the quality control
department. Bao hopes to land a job there one day.
For now, she's off to Santa Clara University where she'll
major in biotechnology.
Meanwhile, 200 students out of a student body of 1,500 were
enrolled in San Mateo High's biotech program this year.
That's pretty remarkable for a class that is considered an
elective, Daugherty said. In fact, it is in such demand that
kids throughout the district's other five high schools are
fighting to get in.
And the need to expand the program is clear.
As it changes from a research to a manufacturing industry,
Daugherty said biotech is calling for workers of all
"In the old days they just needed science nerds," she said.
"Now they need everyone from lab technicians to people in
the business side and the administrative side."
Yunmi Choi can be reached by e-mail at
firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext.
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