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Thursday, December 22, 2011 - 10:31

Young scientists at the Eden Project are testing their DNA for the gene that may answer the eternal Christmas dinner conundrum: why can’t some people stand Brussels sprouts?

A-level students are conducting experiments as part of a national programme run by the UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC) and supported by the Wellcome Trust which aims to give young people hands-on experience with DNA.

Sprouts contain a bitter chemical similar to PTC (Phenylthiocarbamide) which tastes bitter to people that have a variation of a certain gene. Those with a mutation on that gene don’t taste the bitterness. Around half of the world’s population have the mutation, which scientists consider beneficial since people with it are more likely to enjoy eating sprouts, which are high in vitamin C and iron.

Students on educational visits to Eden will extract their own DNA with a cheek swab and amplify it using Polymerase Chain Reaction (a process that makes many copies of a small piece of DNA giving enough to test for the gene). The workshop lasts around five hours.

They will see how evolution works at first hand with practical experience of DNA techniques used in hospitals, forensic services and research laboratories.

Hands-on DNA workshops are being run by 15 science and discovery centres and museums across the UK, each acting as a specialist hub for schools in their region.

John Ellison, Head of Education Strategy at Eden Project, said: “We are excited to work with Cornwall Learning, Cornwall College and our national partners ASDC and Wellcome Trust, to offer this DNA technology resource. It can give South West students hands-on experience of cutting edge bioscience techniques in the inspiring setting of the Eden Project.

“These workshops use Brussels sprouts and our own DNA to show how humans and plants have evolved together. The Eden Project provides the context to connect molecular biology with rainforest research into the plant diversity which is vital for future survival.”

Alex Ledbrooke, Cornwall College Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Project Manager, said: “Christmas dinner isn’t usually associated with science, this hands-on project at Eden helps to do exactly that as it explores why some like and some hate Brussels sprouts.”

Dr Penny Fidler, Project Director and CEO of UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres, said: “Science is an exciting, ever-changing, investigative hands-on pursuit and this project really brings this alive. If we want our nation’s young people to be inspired and motivated by science and consider it as a career for their future, we need to give them opportunities like these so they can see how astounding and enlivening the techniques and questions of real science are.”

Rachel Delourme of Cornwall Learning said: “These workshops are an example of how learning can be contextualised in an inspiring and innovative way.”

Other partner science centres for the project are the Centre for Life in Newcastle, At-Bristol and Nowgen in Manchester.

There are still some spaces left at Eden for A-Level and technician students 16-years-old and over on ‘A Question of Taste’ workshops running March 5 to 9. Eden is currently fully booked for Hands-on DNA Key Stage 4 workshops in Science Week. Bookings can be made through or 01726 811913 for further bookings after March 2012.