Inspiring the Next Generation: Introducing Bioinformatics at Carl-Zeiss-Gymnasium Jena

Empowering the next generation of scientists is crucial for advancing scientific knowledge and innovation. Recently, Franzi and Emanuel from our research group took the opportunity to engage with young minds by leading 90-minute “Bioinformatics Classes” at Carl-Zeiss-Gymnasium in Jena on April 10th, 17th, and 24th. With approximately 25 enthusiastic 10th-grade students in attendance, the sessions aimed to introduce the fascinating world of bioinformatics.

During these sessions, Franzi and Emanuel provided the students with basic knowledge about biological sequences (DNA) (Photo 1) and demonstrated how to compare these sequences algorithmically through sequence alignments (Photo 2). They then explained to the students how sequence comparisons can be used, for example, to find homologous genes in one or more genomes. Homologous genes, as they explained, are genes that have an evolutionary relationship, i.e. that descend from a common precursor sequence, but which change slightly over time. Finally, the students learnt about phylogeny, the evolutionary development of all organisms, and Emanuel and Franzi showed them how these homologous genes can be used to reconstruct family trees (Photo 3).

As the classes concluded, it was evident that the students left with a newfound appreciation for the intricate world of bioinformatics and its relevance in modern biological research. By fostering curiosity and imparting foundational knowledge, Franzi and Emanuel played a vital role in inspiring the next generation of scientists. Such initiatives underscore the importance of outreach programs in nurturing young talents and fostering a passion for science among future leaders. 

We hope to have the opportunity to conduct similar activities again in the near future, continuing our mission to inspire and educate aspiring scientists.

Photo 1: Sample slide from the lesson – DNA
Photo 2: Sample slide from the lesson – Sequence alignments
Photo 3: Sample slide from the lesson – Phylogeny