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When I was a young kid I was really interested in genetics.
Well I didn't really understand genetics.
I kind of thought that when two organisms had a
baby, the baby was just this blend of the two.
Yeah that's a misconception.
But I really saw genetics in action with my guppies.
Guppies are very easy freshwater fish to keep in an aquarium, but they have
two things that I think are especially cool.
They have live birth which means there are no eggs like many
other fish, and second, they have a lot of babies.
They also eat their babies, but I don't think that's especially cool so as you
can see, it's not part of my cool fact list.
Anyway when my surviving baby Guppies grew up they would have all
kinds of cool traits.
These traits were carried by their DNA, their genetic
material, which is found in their body cells.
But sometimes I would forget which mother was the mother of the baby guppy, because
there were several mother fish in the tank, and I wanted to keep track of
inheritance in my guppy notebook.
So what would have been very cool to have at
that time?
Some biotechnology!
Biotechnology is the merge of biology and tech, and it's constantly changing!
It includes topics such as PCR, cloning, and
genetic engineering.
It's also an awesome field.
We're gonna talk about one of the bio technologies that could have, well
potentially, helped me determine the genetic relationships of my guppies... if
you know as a young kid I had access to it.
Although it's becoming way more common in classrooms now.
And that biotechnology is gel electrophoresis!
Gel electrophoresis can be used to separate molecules
based on how big they are (their size) and it's especially useful with
Let's look at DNA real quick.
So here is a guppy cell.
Here's the nucleus in the guppy cell.
Here's the DNA in the nucleus of the guppy cell, and if you were
to zoom into the DNA, here is a nucleotide which is a building block of DNA.
See those phosphates in the nucleotides?
They're a bit negative.
Well they contribute a negative charge anyway to the DNA.
So if we look at this whole DNA here it gives that DNA a negative charge.
That's a big deal, because gel electrophoresis which again separates molecules
based on size relies on the fact that DNA molecules have a negative charge.
Okay, here's a gel electrophoresis machine.
The point of the machine is to be able to have an electrical charge
running through a gel so here's the gel typically made of agarose.
Agarose is a polysaccharide polymer, which if you remember
from our biomolecule video, polysaccharides are carbohydrates.
Yeah, usually agarose comes from seaweed.
The agarose gel itself lets the DNA molecules
travel within it.
One end of the gel has these holes called wells.
The wells are where the DNA is placed into The area of the gel where the wells are is
negatively charged, and the area of the gel here is positively charged.
So guess where the DNA will travel towards?
Well since it's negatively charged, it's going to travel to the positive side.
So typically when you're analyzing DNA in electrophoresis
you use these restriction enzymes to cut the DNA up into
tiny pieces.
Restriction enzymes have the ability to cut up DNA in very specific
areas, often related to the specific DNA bases, making restriction enzymes
very useful in biotechnology.
So if I had baby guppy DNA and adult mother guppy
DNA, and I want to compare them, then I would want to use the same types of
restriction enzymes in both DNA samples.
If I used the same type of restriction enzyme, it should be cutting the DNA at the
same identification points in the DNA samples.
However, unless the mother and baby guppy are clones (and they're
not), those pieces that result after the restriction enzyme is done with them may
be differently sized because the DNA of the baby and mother guppy had some
differences in the sequence of their DNA bases.
So the DNA samples both are cut into multiple pieces by the same type of restriction
enzyme and then those samples are loaded into the gel sample1 and
If we turn on the machine and let the DNA run through the gel, the DNA
moves towards the positive side.
But some pieces of that cut up DNA will move faster
or slower than other pieces.
Longer DNA pieces tend to have a higher molecular weight and they take more time
to make it across the gel when you compare it to shorter DNA pieces which
move at a faster rate.
So what you end up with is that these DNA fragments spread
out with the longer pieces closer to the wells and the shorter pieces closer to
this opposite side of the gel.
These are called DNA bands, but to see them, you
usually need to stain the gel itself and view it under a UV light.
Now let's compare the DNA bands in this hypothetical
simplified guppy situation.
The bands aren't going to be identical, because these fish are not clones, but I
can compare how similar the bands are and compare that to other mother guppy
samples to look for relationships.
Let's say that we have three mother guppy samples to view and these are the only possible
mothers from the fish tank.
Which one appears to be the most related to the offspring in this case and has a
high likelihood of being the mother?
Well this one.
But we can't be 100% sure with this, It would be helpful for me to know the
father guppy sample too because this will give you more insight.
But if these are the only fish in the tank, it's
a very high likelihood with this case.
Also, you can use something called a DNA ladder!
You can buy them from various science material distributors, but a DNA
ladder is not what it sounds like.
It's basically a sample that has known fragment sizes so if you run it in the electrophoresis
machine, you already know the fragment lengths.
Let's say this DNA ladder only had three bands, which is not
usually the case.
Since it's a DNA ladder, the base pair lengths are known.
They are 500 base pairs, 1,000 base pairs, and 1,500
base pairs.
Think fora minute...where would they fit in?
It would look like this!
You can use this now as a reference to give estimates of
how large the other fragments are when they're run alongside it, and if you want
to be closer to the value, you can use a stand my love graph something to look up.
So why do we care about gel electrophoresis?
It's not likely I'll be actually using this with my guppies anyway,
Well perhaps.
But gel electrophoresis is often a step used in determining
relatedness with different species, which help scientists better classify
It's also used as part of DNA fingerprinting.
DNA fingerprinting is a way that one can identify someone's DNA which can be very helpful
if you're trying to solve a mystery involving a crime scene.
If you have a DNA sample from a crime scene, you
can go through the steps of gel electrophoresis to compare it to the
suspect DNA to see the likelihood of a match.
In fact, you can take the results from gel electrophoresis and isolate genes
of interest by something called southern blotting.
Definitely something to look up if you're curious.
Gel electrophoresis is one of many awesome tools
in biotechnology.
Well...that's it for the amoeba sisters, and we remind you
to stay curious.