Student using science equipment to extract lemur DNA.

A world of discovery, learning, and curiosity immerses biology students at Martin L. Nesbitt Jr. Discovery Academy (NDA). 

Teacher Nicole Washburn is consistently crafting hands-on science labs for students. Recently she implemented an experiment known as the Lemur Lab. This in-depth discovery utilizes data collected by the Duke University Lemur Center while in Madagascar. 

“Scientists are using DNA from dwarf lemurs to measure biodiversity,” said Ms. Washburn. “Currently there are 108 species of lemurs. My students used the animals' appearances and traits along with DNA gel and DNA fingerprinting to determine the kind of species in a particular area of Madagascar.” 

Students hypothesized what might be the cause of the dwarfism in lemurs. In order to test the hypothesis they took a closer look at the DNA. 

“The DNA was cut by restriction enzymes that recognize a particular sequence of DNA,” Ms. Washburn explained. “We learned that if a cut is made by the enzyme it later shows up as two lines of DNA which is known to denote a particular species of dwarf lemur. We got lucky and did in fact have two species of lemur.”

Ms. Washburn said this was a brand new lab for both the students and herself. Some of the materials used were borrowed from NC State.

“I tell my students ahead of time that we are all in this together, and mistakes are part of the learning process,” she said. “I hope my interest and excitement causes them to find something they love about science. I want my students to know that we are all scientists and there is a place in the sciences for everyone.”