Typically, biobanking and the laboratory sample management software associated with it are used by universities, public agencies and private research firms to further translational medicine and other areas of study. However, a program in Alaska could change that: called the Biotechnology Training and Preparatory Program, or BioTAPP, it allows students at Chugiak High School in Anchorage to conduct original biotechnology research. So far, the venture has already proved to be extremely popular and successful, and could soon spread to other Alaskan schools as a result.
Started by instructor Aaron Kallas at the Polaris K-12 school, also in Anchorage, district moved BioTAPP to Chugiak High School in 2013. A one-of-a-kind program, its goal is to help support the state’s emerging need for medical professionals and biotechnicians. As a result, participating students learn a variety of skills: first-year students learn lab tech protocols, ranging from how to operate biotech equipment to how to dress and behave in a professional setting. Meanwhile, second-year students embark on their own research projects, using $100,000 worth of laboratory sample management software and other tools to study a variety of topics. For example, one student with parents involved in Alaska’s environmental research community was able to obtain sea otter tissue samples and genetically link two separate groups of sea otters from Kachemak Bay and Kodiak Island. Currently classified as two separate groups, the student’s research showed that there was no scientific reason for this division.
Given BioTAPP’s success, Kallas has since been tapped to work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks as a liasion, allowing him to help other school districts throughout the state develop similar programs. He has been replaced by Talia Wiacek, a teacher with prior experience working as a laboratory technician with the United States Geological Services. Wiacek has pointed out that few students in the United States have the opportunity to receive the hands-on experience that BioTAPP provides; many biology classes simply don’t have the time or supplies to facilitate this work. As biotechnology continues to improve and innovate, programs like BioTAPP could become a vital part of preparing the next generation of lab technicians, researchers and more, paving the way for further innovation.