Biology & informatics &… olms?

Last Friday (8th of November) I was fortunate enough to hold a workshop (with Bruno) called “Little workshop of Bioinformatics” – the title is a bit wild, but we purposefully chose an “exotic” name in order to arouse curiosity.
This workshop, held in House of Velebit in Krasno, is actually a continuation of a two workshops we already held (one in a City Museum Samobor and another one at my old primary school) and which we designed to introduce school children of all ages to primary concepts of molecular biology & genetics. Of course, kids in 7th and 8th grade were already familiar with it.

We first designed the workshops, with the help of our mentor Dalibor Paar, associate professor at Department of Physics, Faculty of Science, and were nominated for Rector’s Awards in 2019.

Where is the informatics part, you ask? In the using of micro:bits, cute and small mini computers that are easily programmable in Python or JavaScript (we chose Python). Bruno wrote a very elegant code and I designed the rest of the workshop: ciphers to de-code, phenotypes, core of the workshop… In terms of design, my BFF Ivana generously lend her drawing skills and we were all set.


How the workshop works?
First, I introduce students to basic concepts of the molecular biology: what is DNA, what is a protein, and that DNA codes for proteins. This part, depending on the ages (and attention) of children can last up to 15 minutes, then the fun begins. Every kid gets a cipher, which consists of four or five lines, each of those consists of nine differently coloured arrows that can point in one of four directions: up, down, left or right. micro:bits have motion sensors that pick up in which directions they are pointed and display one of the four letters: A, C, T or G. We also coded for a second program, in which kids enter those letters (DNA bases) and they show three letters that represent a very short amino-acid sequence (in this example, a protein). When they are finished with this part, we give them another paper, where they are supposed to find what is encoded by their protein (blue or green eyes, blonde or red hair…).
For the workshop in Krasno, we switched things up a bit, and our “proteins” encoded for different characteristics of two different olm subspecies: a pink one and a black one.
This might seem a bit complicated in theory, but in practice, children picked up everything really fast 🙂

Olms & micro:bits!
Olms & micro:bits!

So, how many of you have heard of olms, or proteus? And how many of you knew there is a black subspecies? 🙂
Olms (Proteus anguinus) are amphibians (like frogs), they are completely aquatic and live in dinaric caves. Noted sightings include Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. They have elongated bodies, external branchiae, and no eyes. The black subspecies (Proteus anguinus parkelj) is, well, black, and has eyes. The other notable difference is that pink olm lives in colder waters (up to 11° C). Another interesting fact is its name in Croatian: “čovječja ribica”, which roughly translates to “human fish”.

I think the name is appropriate, and you?

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