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Stanford research powerhouse lures kids with squished stawberries, solid science

As I found out, you don't have to be a kid to enjoy Kid's Day at Clark.

Stanford's Clark Center is home to Bio-X, a high-powered interdisciplinary program in which engineers, medical researchers, materials scientists and their ilk mix freely in innovative pursuits.

Innovation was definitely afoot one recent afternoon, as more than 300 moppets milled about a dozen or so imagination-spearing exhibits in the Clark courtyard, creating scenes like this one:

A motley mob besieged a table offering the opportunity to extract DNA from strawberries. Why strawberries, asked the reporter (who had not exactly taken skips but had lithely squeezed his way to the front of an imaginary seniors’ line). “Because kids like strawberries,” responded Jennifer Brady, a Bio-X-funded microbiology and immunology PhD student. “Plus, strawberries are octoploid. They have eight copies of their genome in every cell, while we diploids have only two. So that’s four times as much DNA per cell.” Elementary. Everybody knows that.

“We’re made out of cells. So are strawberries,” bioengineering lab manager Charu Ramakrishnan told two small sisters named Rebecca and Claire. “We can’t take Rebecca and squish her and take out DNA from her. So we’re going to squish a strawberry!"

No children were harmed in the ensuing procedure, although a dry-cleaning bill (for my spattered shirt) was incurred. You could have sworn it was blood. I call it Strawberry Surprise.

Photo by Norbert von der Groeben

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