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C. Islip teens get to play with DNA

Tyler Danzy, 15, of Central Islip, works with

Tyler Danzy, 15, of Central Islip, works with a DNA sample he took from his own cheek as part of the Unlock the Possibilities program at the Central Islip Public Library. (July 22, 2011) Photo Credit: T.C. McCarthy

Marsha Manigat smiled Friday as she filled her pipette with clear fluid containing a sample of what she and her classmates have been learning about for the past two weeks: DNA.

The 17-year-old Central Islip teen started the exercise by filling her mouth with saline solution and swishing it around for 30 seconds. The swishing collected cells from the inside of her cheeks so she could extract her DNA from them. It was part of a program run by the Unlock the Possibilities Foundation, an Islip-based organization dedicated to science education for Long Island youth, at the Central Islip Public Library.

“The landscape of medical technology is changing,” said Jerry Watkins, the not-for-profit’s director. Watkins, 61, started the foundation along with his sons, Dr. Jermel Watkins, 35, a researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and Justin Watkins, 29, who is studying to mentor troubled youth. “This is the new science, and I think every child and every human being should have some level of literacy of this technology.”

The Watkins family started the foundation two years ago, allowing Jerry Watkins to continue teaching Islip’s youth. He was a science teacher at Central Islip High School for 36 years who now is a per diem teacher in the Brookhaven Office of Education. The foundation’s hope is to eventually open a science learning center in the Central Islip area.

The library course’s curriculum covered more than just human DNA. Participants used plants supplied by Central Islip’s Papa's Farm & Greenhouses to extract the DNA and sequence the genes to try to discover new species. That part of the course struck a chord with Manigat, who wants to become a geologist.

“I think the Earth is really interesting,” she said. “Seeing how things changed over all of these years.”

Above, Tyler Danzy, 15, of Central Islip, works with a DNA sample he took from his own cheek as part of the Unlock the Possibilities program at the Central Islip Public Library. (July 22, 2011)

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