Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Illumina’s virtual lab opens immense learning possibilities for students


The simulated virtual environment in the lab is a fantastic opportunity for students.

While visiting her grandparents in Florida, Kate, 17, visited a nearby pond and spent time observing the various species of fish that live there. She became intrigued by the genetic differences between two populations of fish, one in the ocean and the other in this 50-foot-deep saltwater pond.

Kate is a biotech capstone student at Menlo School in Atherton, California, and this question will guide her research project this semester. She intends to look for genetic differences using PCR and DNA sequencing. Tanya Buxton, her teacher, founded the capstone course in 1994 as an after-school biotech club and has nurtured its growth ever since.

The Illumina Genomic Discoveries (IGD) DNA Library Preparation and Sequencing Simulation Lab, developed in collaboration with Biocom California Institute (BCI) as a free resource for educators to introduce students to the key genomics concepts of DNA, PCR, and whole-genome sequencing, is one tool Buxton's students use.

“The IGD Simulation Lab is a hands-on experience in a virtual environment, exposing students to micropipetting, DNA library preparation and library clean-up protocols, PCR, and Illumina’s state-of-the-art tagmentation and whole-genome sequencing technology,” said Mikayla Ortega, a program manager at BCI. 

“Students get to be Illumina scientists for the day and work in a virtual lab space where they explore the equipment and complete the simulated experiment.”

“It has always been important to me to stay up-to-date with the latest industry technology and bring it to my students through programs and industry mentors,” said Buxton. 

“My experience with Illumina’s virtual lab simulation was seamless because it includes a robust curriculum and resources. It also opened my students’ eyes to a broader scope for their capstone projects to include DNA sequencing.”

Buxton is one of 20 teachers who have received IGD training. Many are based in Southern California, but IGD is expanding in the Bay Area thanks to collaborations between BCI and regional organizations and county education offices. Buxton is also working with the Bay Area Bioscience Education Community (BABEC) to bring the simulated DNA sequencing experience to hundreds of students throughout the Bay Area.

“At Illumina, we are committed to equitable access to STEM education,” said Sharon Vidal, Illumina’s global head of Corporate Social Responsibility. 

“By partnering with our employees and nonprofit community partners like Biocom California Institute, we have created industry-aligned resources. Programs like the Illumina Virtual Lab empower teachers to create meaningful experiences for students around genomics and inspire them to explore careers in life sciences.”