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DNA tests crack the science problem

WHODUNNIT? Children as young as 10 are finding out by using "genetic fingerprinting" techniques to solve imaginary crimes.

Lessons being trialled in Northern Ireland aim to capture the imagination of primary pupils by giving them a glimpse of the techniques behind modern forensic science.

The youngsters, who are thought to be the first primary pupils in the United Kingdom to learn about a subject which is usually restricted to sixth-formers, start by writing imaginary crime scenarios.

One or more of these stories is then chosen, and they are then given a picture of the imaginary criminal's DNA.

They then watch as genetic material from five "suspects" is passed, by an electric current, through a special gel. This produces patterns which can then be compared to the "criminal's" genetic profile to produce a verdict.

Dr Ivor Hickey, of St Mary's University College, Belfast, who has organised the hour-long lessons for six schools in the city, said: "The response from the kids is phenomenal. I was quite knocked out by it when I saw it for the first time. When they were asked about DNA fingerprinting, they all starting listing these TV programmes where they'd heard about it.

"It captures their interest from the start, and we hope they take that away with them. That's important, because too often pupils' interest in science drops off as they get older."

The move is the latest attempt to make science lessons more relevant to pupils, following criticism by a parliamentary committee last year about dull teaching of the subject.

The programme, which has been adapted from a resource developed for secondary students by American biotechnology company Biorad, was presented by Dr Hickey at the annual conference of the Association of Tutors in Science Education this week.

Dr Hickey said he was expecting interest from schools in England.

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