COLUMBIA, Mo. – Brenda Pineda and Tinaira Tieuel stand in front of a classroom, teaching 30 students how to build DNA structures using candy.

Brenda and Tinaira are teaching a workshop, “Biotech to Feed the World,” in which students learn the importance of using biotechnology to reduce hunger as the world population continues to grow.

“Most people in the U.S. don’t understand that people in other countries worry about how they’re going to eat every day,” said Tieuel, a St. Louis County 4-H’er. “So with biotechnology, we’re trying to inform people and help them grow more food so they can eat just like we can.”

Biotechnology applies biological science to advancing engineering, medicine, agriculture and food technology. Biotechnologists look for ways to enhance animals and plants by manipulating the genes of organisms and inserting them into other organisms to produce a desired trait.

The biotech workshop was part of the recent State 4-H Congress on the University of Missouri campus. MU Extension 4-H’ers ages 14 to19 participated in educational workshops.

Pineda and Tieuel are part of a group of 4-H Ambassadors from around the state who are teaching other youth about biotechnology. They will take what they learned at the state congress and create science lessons for others in their 4-H clubs back home.

During the session, the youth participated in activities such as extracting DNA from strawberries using rubbing alcohol, dishwashing detergent and other household items, and building DNA models out of licorice and gumdrops.

Donna Garcia, MU Extension 4-H urban youth development specialist, hopes the program will get more people interested in biotechnology.

“One of the concerns with biotechnology, of course, is being able to feed those who are underfed,” Garcia said. “We’re not taking a political stance, but what we are doing is examining biotechnology. If informed on biotechnology, kids will be able to form their own opinions on this issue.”

Pineda and Tieuel knew little about the need for biotechnology, but after taking the training courses the two were more than willing to teach others about it.

“We want urban youth to realize that it’s not just going to the store to get what you’re going to get, it’s a bigger process behind the materials and the food we get on a daily basis,” said Pineda, who is with Jackson County 4-H.

“One of the things that I really appreciate about this program is watching diverse groups of young people who don’t know each other, but they’re able to come together, work together towards a common goal,” Garcia said. “And to me, it has just been phenomenal to watch that happen.”

The State 4-H Congress is sponsored by the National 4-H Council, with financial support from the United Soybean Board.

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