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5 Important Genetic Testing Techniques Your Students Should Learn

Ginelle Testa
Teaching with Labster
January 10, 2023

If you’re teaching a course in genetics, perhaps you’re looking for resources to help you introduce or reinforce fundamental genetics lab techniques that every student should learn.

There are many lab techniques in the genetics classroom, but we’ve identified five of the most commonly used techniques based on the recommendations of Testing.com

  1. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
  2. Next-generation sequencing (NGS) 
  3. Cytogenetics
  4. Gene Expression Profiling
  5. Gel electrophoresis

We’ve also identified five Labster virtual labs that help you teach each technique. Not only can your students learn the methods, but they can also have fun along the way!

1. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)

PCR is a widely used technique in genetics research. It’s used in various medical and forensic applications, such as detecting infectious diseases, identifying genetic disorders, and identifying DNA from crime scene samples.

In Labster’s simulation, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), students will be thrown right into a crime scene where a murder has taken place. After investigating the crime scene, their first task is to collect blood samples in the hope that the murderer has left traces of their DNA.

Virtual lab crime scene with detective and body on the floor.

2. Next-generation sequencing (NGS) 

NGS has revolutionized the field of genetics by making it possible to rapidly and inexpensively sequence entire genomes. It’s used to identify genetic mutations that cause inherited diseases, diagnose genetic disorders, and personalize treatment for diseases such as cancer.

In Labster’s Next Generation Sequencing simulation, students will learn the different steps of sample preparation, sequencing, data collection, and data analysis using the NGS technique. They’ll be able to handle human samples in a way they cannot in the classroom.

3. Cytogenetics

Cytogenetics helps scientists understand how the genetic material in cells is organized and how it is passed from one generation to the next. It’s important for the diagnosis and treatment of genetic disorders.

In Labster’s simulation, Cytogenetics: Perform a prenatal diagnosis, students will help a mother-to-be who is extremely worried about her baby's fate by diagnosing the fetus’ condition using a cytogenetics-based approach.

Cytogenics virtual lab with medical professional doing ultrasound of baby.

4. Gene Expression Profiling

Gene expression profiling is a powerful tool for studying the regulation of gene expression. It allows scientists to understand how genes are turned on and off in different cell types and under different conditions and how this affects the function of cells and tissues.

In Labster’s simulation, Gene Expression Unit: Use sequencing to unveil a gene linked to obesity, students will learn how to sequence DNA and screen for genes that might be over-expressed in obese pigs. To do so, they’ll have to use state-of-the-art techniques such as Next Generation Sequencing and qPCR (quantitative polymerase chain reaction) and perform proper data analysis to single out specific genes.

5. Gel electrophoresis

Gel electrophoresis is a widely used technique for separating and purifying DNA and proteins. It’s a valuable tool for diagnostic testing. It’s also used in basic research to study the function of specific genes and identify the genes involved in different biological processes.

In Labster’s Gel Electrophoresis virtual lab, students solve a crime by using DNA fingerprinting to identify a thief. Students will use nucleic acid gel electrophoresis to separate and visualize DNA molecules and watch an animation to understand what happens inside the gel tank.

Gel electrophoresis virtual lab showing the setup.

Questions to consider:

  • How could you incorporate these lab techniques into your teaching plans?
  • Are these virtual labs better as self-paced homework assignments or small-group collaboration in class?
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