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Western Center Students Learn about Genetic Coding and Entomology


Many students across the nation are in the full swing of summer, but a select group of Western Center Academy (WCA) students are using their summer vacation to expand their knowledge. Students are meeting for an hour and a half, two days a week, to learn about genetic coding and entomology.

Ten WCA students from Western Center Academy were chosen to take a class that closely aligns with an Honors Biology class offered by Dr. Reeves at Mt. San Jacinto College for his sophomores. Students were chosen based on exemplary writing or science fair projects. However, this class does not end during the summer; it is a multi-year project that may allow these students to become published authors. 

In the beginning of the class students will focus on catching, identifying, and using the correct techniques to pin their insects. Once students have mastered these techniques they will set up a Malaise trap to catch hundreds of insects. Students will identify, divide into categories, and pin the insects they will need for their project. Students will then extract the insect’s DNA and send it to a lab in San Diego. If they provide the DNA of a specimen that is not already in the Barcode of Life Database, they will be considered published scientists. Each year the database is published with all of the contributors as co-authors. 

These Western Center Academy students will be working with Mt. San Jacinto College (MSJC) students. Western Center students will set up their Malaise trap in a preserve while MSJC students will set up their trap on their campus. They will compare the insect’s DNA to see if human presence is a factor. 

During the summer classes students are learning from a graduate student from University of California, Riverside (UCR) and Dr. Reeves from MSJC. The graduate student from UCR, Ryan Perry, is helping the students identify and correctly pin their insects. Perry said he is impressed by the student’s pinning, “It’s almost museum quality, even for us,” (referring to the graduate students at UCR). 

Rebecca Dana, one of the WCA students involved in the project, said she is enjoying the research aspect of the project. While she isn’t as fond of the collection process, she set up the Malaise trap at her house to collect insects for the other students participating in the class.

Michael Horton, Assistant Principal of WCA, said he is proud of these students for their dedication. “Some do it out of pure love of science, others with the hope of getting accepted to a more prestigious university. Whatever the reason, these students are sacrificing their personal time for the cause of answering scientific questions that nobody knows the answers to.”