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Students at Broad Run High School will learn in their science classroom what public-health workers know all too well Ñ diseases can spread among people at an alarming rate. With help from Virginia TechÕs Fralin Biotechnology Center, students in Donna ArmaniÕs class will use techniques and materials similar to those used by health-care professionals to determine who in the class has been ÒinfectedÓ after they simulate an epidemic spreading through the classroom. The equipment and material is loaned to the school by the CenterÕs Biotech-in-a-Box program, which allows the students to ÒdiagnoseÓ themselves using technology similar to that used in diagnostic kits in hospitals and in many home detection kits.
Beginning the week of Nov. 30, one student will be given a ÒpositiveÓ sample. Students will swap fractions of their samples with other students, thus mimicking the spread of Òbody fluidÓ by sneezing, hand-shaking, or other types of contact. The experiments substitute harmless materials for disease agents.
Biotech-in-a-Box, as well as the training to participate in the program, are part of the Fralin Biotechnology CenterÕs outreach efforts. The Center brings together an interdisciplinary group of scientists and educators to solve complex biological problems in medicine, agriculture, environmental science, and informatics, and to collaborate with Virginia schools in enhancing public understanding of biotechnology, genetics, and genomics. Virginia Tech scientists regularly use these types of experiments in conducting research, for example, in tracking how pests and diseases spread through farmland and across ecosystems.