CHS welcomes Cornell ‘road warrior’

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Cathedral High School Science Department would like to welcome a special guest to Natchez this week. Dr. Mike Darwin Yerky, outreach coordinator of the Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., will be spending the day with Cathedral students on Friday.

As the “road warrior” for CIBT, Dr. Yerky drives thousands of miles a year visiting schools with his traveling laboratory of molecular biology equipment. He conducts advanced laboratory procedures such as protein gel electrophoresis and DNA profiling as well as presenting lectures on his research in the fields of animal behavior and the diversity of primates.

Dr. Yerky’s visit is funded by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and is possible due to the generosity of Cornell University. Every summer, hands-on workshops are held on the Ithaca campus for science teachers who apply for the program.

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The one-week workshop for middle-school teachers and the two-week molecular biology workshop for high school teachers include lodging in one of Cornell’s historic residence halls at no cost to the teachers.

Alumni of the CIBT workshops receive the benefit of visits from Dr. Yerky, along with access to a Lending Library of equipment for performing the lab activities in their own classrooms. Alumni may also attend return-to-campus weekends each spring and fall and a one-week alumni workshop each year in July. Just as valuable are the connections made with other teachers in the program who communicate and share ideas on a regular basis.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to attend the molecular biology workshop and it was the most incredible event of my professional career. I was introduced to CIBT by Anita Cliburn, instructor of anatomy and physiology at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, who had attended the workshop in 2008. She scheduled Dr. Yerky’s visit to the Wesson campus, where he worked with Co-Lin students as well as with area biology teachers. We are fortunate to have in our area an educational institution with the excellent faculty and science curriculum available at Co-Lin.

During the CIBT workshop, I was able to interact with Cornell scientists, visit research labs, and learn how to use expensive molecular biology equipment that many high schools cannot afford to purchase. The workshop also included training in an exciting research program in which our high school students can participate next year as an extension of the insect collections in the honors Biology II class.

The students already collect and identify insects, but with participation in the HHMI-funded program at the marine biology laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., the students will also be able to test the DNA of the insects to determine whether they are infected with Wolbachia bacteria. The results sent to the researchers are used in tracking the infection, giving students the opportunity to participate in current scientific research that could have implications in the control of crop insects in our area.

Twenty juniors and seniors will participate in the DNA gel electrophoresis workshop to be in the high school biology lab this week. This DNA profiling lab will give students experience in using sophisticated equipment while performing a simulated paternity test.

The students will use restriction enzymes to cut DNA into fragments and then use agarose gel electrophoresis to separate the fragments into the characteristic bands of a DNA fingerprint which can be used to determine paternity.

Please join us in welcoming Dr. Yerky. We hope that he will enjoy the people and sights of Natchez as much as we appreciate having him here at Cathedral.

Interested science teachers may visit the Web site at for more information on CIBT.

Denise Thibodeaux is a biology teacher at Cathedral High School.