As part of his job as director of education, conservation and wildlife at the Hattiesburg Zoo, Jeremy Cumpton focuses on the importance of science in the natural world, even in the parts that can’t be seen.
As part of that, Cumpton and the rest of the zoo staff are gearing up for Science Sunday, which will be held from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. April 18 in the Flamingo Pavilion at the zoo. For this year’s event, participants will be able to extract DNA from strawberries with the help of graduate students from the University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Biological, Environmental and Earth Sciences department.
“(Jeremy) focuses on everything from animal care, to plant care, to all the things that help us to exist,” said Lisa Conn, communications consultant for the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, which runs the zoo. “This is a fun way to teach children the importance of science.
“It’s one thing to make it really difficult, but strawberries are something that everybody can relate to. Kids love strawberries and fruit, and it’s just easily relatable.”
Strawberries are octoploid, which means their cells each have eight duplicate copies of each chromosome. Because of that, the cells contain extensive DNA, making it easier to extract a large amount that is visible to the naked eye.
After participants have extracted the strawberry DNA, they will be able to take it home in a compostable, sealed bag.
“We’ve ordered all the supplies, and it’s a four- or five-step process,” Conn said. “It will be easy to work with, but it is a biological process that they will be working on.”
All supplies needed for the strawberry DNA extraction will be provided. There is no additional charge to participate in Science Sunday; regular zoo admission prices and annual passes apply.
“One of our goals at the Hattiesburg Zoo is to cultivate the public’s interest, appreciation, respect and knowledge of nature,” Cumpton said. “Experiments such as this help bring about a different perspective of science in an interactive and fun way.
“The more people learn about varying aspects of nature, we hope the more they will be willing to protect it.”
The first Science Day at the Hattiesburg Zoo was held in October 2015.
“They’ve been received very well,” Conn said. “And I think getting the word out is so important, because it’s letting people know that there are more activities than just looking at the animals.
“Although that’s certainly gratifying and fun to do at the zoo, we want to keep changing it and keep offering different opportunities that make our visitors want to come back time and time again.”