The following story is from Teton County Extension Agent Jane Wolery:

The 4-H BioScience program 2015-16, a science experience for students grades 8-11, was held August 3-7 on the MSU Bozeman campus and continues until February through experiments and video conferencing with MSU professors.  Eight Teton County youth, Berit Bedord, Jacob Boetticher, Lila Bradley, Jill Donaldson, Bryce Gramm, Oliver Jorden, Ashley Pearson and Sam Stutz have formed two BioScience teams in Teton County this year.  They are coached by Lisa Bedord, Brenda Boetticher and Jane Wolery.

Bryce Gramm works with blood samples in lab while BioScience teammate, Oliver Jorden, and mentor Evan Thompson look on. (Photo: Jane Wolery)

While on the MSU campus, students participated in three modules – neuroscience, metabolomics and infectious disease.  The 4-H members work with MSU professors and graduate student mentors.  The teens from Teton County were able to use their own blood to separate red and white blood cells.  The blood was then tested for a variety of nutrients, but the students concentrated on the omega-6 and omega-3 scores and the ratio.  One of the students had an excellent ratio of nearly 1:1 and credited his diet of home-raised, grass-fed beef.  The typical American diet is more askew with ratios of nearly 20 to 1 omega-6 to omega-3.  Diets high in omega-6 and low in omega-3 may make a person prone to poor brain function and health conditions such as headaches, ADHD, depression as well as cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases.

Evan Thompson takes blood from willing participant Oliver Jorden during the BioScience program. (Photo: Jane Wolery)

4-H members worked with Dr. Edward Dratz and his team of students drawing the blood samples and analyzing results.  They will continue throughout the year with metabolomics by completing some dietary analysis.  The 4-H members may also get to test an app being developed by an MSU grad student that will simplify dietary input and allow users to choose a nutrient of focus, such as sodium or vitamin D.  Students also did a simple zinc test and learned more about zinc’s important role in the body.


Ashley Pearson uses a tactile probe to test hand sensitivity on Lila Bradley as part of the neuroscience unit during the 4-H BioScience program on the MSU campus. (Photo: Jane Wolery)


The neuroscience module is a little mind boggling.  4-H students puzzled over optical illusions and sensory input as they learned how the human brain connects to the rest of the body.  One of the more electrifying experiences was using a spiker box to see if impulses from one person’s ulnar nerve, found along the outside of the arm, could be sent to another person and control their movements.  It was a little unnerving, to say the least, to have finger movements controlled by another person.  As part of the unit, students will explore hand sensitivity and see if they can use the elasticity of the brain to change how their hands feel stimuli.  They will be creating a 3-D hand homunculus as well as studying about auditory and taste sensory inputs.

Lila Bradley, Ashely Pearson, Jacob Boetticher and Berit Bedord get set for their experiments in infectious disease. (Photo: Jane Wolery)

The teams participated in an infectious disease unit and were able to test their own nose and throat cultures and explore their own microbiota, guided by Dr. Jovanka Voyich.  They also used samples of a “patient” from a case study.  Students learned to use agar plates, do Gram staining and catalase tests.  One team had a patient in her early 20s present with non-bloody diarrhea following a visit to a relative’s dairy farm.  At first she thought she was just exhausted, but the students determined through a variety of tests that she had an e-coli infection.  As part of the continued work the teams will choose an infectious disease experiment to explore further using skills they learned in the lab at MSU.

Sam Stutz separates red and white blood cells in the lab at MSU. Behind him are his 4-H BioScience teammates Oliver Jorden and Bryce Gramm and mentor, Evan Thompson. (Photo: Jane Wolery)

While on the MSU campus, students were able to tour the Schutter Diagnostics Lab, where plant and insect diseases are identified and monitored and learn how the lab’s efforts affect agriculture producers as well as urban consumers.  Students also got a tour of Cooley Lab with a graduate students studying the herpes virus.  Cooley lab is a hub for biomedical research.  Students received a tour of the Renne Library and learned about services available on campus.  They were also able to spend time at the Museum of the Rockies, enjoy the features at the planetarium, use the fitness center on campus and stretch out with climbing at the Spire climbing center just a few blocks from campus.

Jill Donaldson takes samples from an agar plate. A lab assistant helps. (Photo: Jane Wolery)

Of the eight members involved in the SEPA (Science Education Partnership Award) funded BioScience program, five are new to 4-H since April.  A few who joined specifically to take part in BioScience Montana now plan to take other projects and participate in leadership trainings.  Extension Agent Jane Wolery says one of the best parts of the BioScience program is how students start to see other opportunities and gain confidence in their ability to maneuver on a college campus, interact with professors and gain exposure to different areas of study and careers.