Ted Sherwood affixes bacteria to a slide using an alcohol burner in the Project Lead the Way biomedical lab.  PHOTO BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Ted Sherwood affixes bacteria to a slide using an alcohol burner in the Project Lead the Way biomedical lab. PHOTO BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
The E. coli or the bacillus cereus...

Whodunit?

Either way, "Ana Garcia" is still alone in a locked room, deceased, and that's where the alcohol burners come in.

Kingsland students in Brad Reiter's Project Lead the Way (PLTW) biomedical classes have been trying to solve the mystery of the fictional Garcia's demise since the beginning of the school year by donning lab coats, affixing bacteria to glass slides by passing it through the flames of alcohol burners and examining it under microscopes to find whether their particular sample is positive or negative, learning all the while about how bacteria can infect a person and perhaps cause death.

Reiter, who pointed out that the strains of bacteria used would show a positive - the bacillus, or a negative, the Escherichia coli -- related, "This is mainly an observation lab. All the stuff we do with the infectious diseases unit was kicked off by a crime scene at the beginning of the year in which they're trying to figure out how Ana Garcia died."

Throughout the school year, students have learned about sickle cell anemia, diabetes and other diseases, subjects dealing a lot with microbiology, looking at gene mutations. They had a section on sickle cell anemia, and they're exploring microbiology - chromosomes, DNA, nucleic acids, infectious diseases and bacteria.

This particular lab showed students the difference between bacteria, and eventually, what prescribed medications could do to eliminate a person's infectious disease.

"If something is gram positive or gram negative, it determines which antibiotic you need to use, because a lot of them don't work on specific positives or negatives. It allows you to tailor your medication to what you have," said Reiter. "We cultivated two kinds of bacteria, and there are six types of antibiotics that we can see how they affect the bacteria. Penicillin is overused, and there's a battle between medical personnel and scientists to find the right balance because once a medicine is overused, the strains evolve and become stronger."

The students enjoy delving into labs and challenging their scientific knowledge as they adjust their microscopes for a better look at bacteria - at 1,000 times the magnification, they're impressed by what they see - and can take those challenges further as they become familiar with lab procedures.

Reiter shared, "It leads into further research. They've been able to go into procedure and learn more while in the labs. It gives them substance to be there looking through the microscope. I can tell them about something in a lecture, but this, they'll remember."