Summer time is a period not only for holidays, but also for new knowledge, and students of the All-Ukrainian summer school of environmental preservation and biotechnologies of plants use this opportunity for the third year in a row.

Under the aegis of Junior Academy of Sciences (JAS), 27 talented students have come to Uman national arboretum "Sofiyevka" to try on the role of plant breeders, geneticists and ecologists. ForUm was following their work.

Oksen Lisovoy, director of the national center "Junior Academy of Sciences of Ukraine", told journalists that children from all over Ukraine go on courses free of charge, within the All-Ukrainian scientific marathon "Summer of intellect-2013". However, only the best students, winners of various contests and Olympiads, are accepted in the school. There are four schools participating in the finals -  Uman school of environmental preservation and biotechnologies of plants, Zakarpatya school of art history, Crimean school for astronomy studies and US pedagogical school.    
"Every school has several goals - broadening of knowledge of talented children, team-building to harmonize possibilities and assist with vocational choice, patriotic education to serve the motherland and humanity in general."

The director also informed that this year, by request of German's embassy, JAS has founded a school of biochemistry in Gottingen. Now Ukrainian children can participate annually in various modern scientific researches. Young scientists, who have already been in Germany, studied such matters as genetics, neurophysiology, molecular chemistry, microbiology, and demonstrated high level of knowledge. Students were synthesizing smells and colors, measuring impulse frequency of fishes and even injecting jelly fish's DNA into human cells.

"Our children were accompanied by supervisors, graduates of the biology faculty of Shevchenko's University. They told that thanks to modern equipment children could actually practice everything our university students study only in theory," Oksen Lisovoy said.

According to Ivan Kosenko, director of the Uman national arboretum "Sofiyevka", this year 9th and 10th grade pupils have come for ten days, and apart from lectures they will do some serious practice.

Today children do microcloning, using xylophytes, which do not propagate in usual manner (sprouts or bulbs).

Maryna Golovko from Donetsk region is cloning a Chinese redbud. She is sterilizing the plant, cutting off separate sprouts and planting them into special soil in a vial.

If everything is done correctly, in 20-30 days the clone will sprout. The best new sprouts will be placed in special environment and plants will develop roots in 30-40 days.

Vials and chemical agents to create proper environment for plants.

Her the plants are waiting for their time.

Then the small plants are transferred to the adaptation room to get ready for natural environment. Chief of the microcloning lab Mykhailo Nebykov is telling students about the adaptation process.
"Plants have been growing in vials under sterile conditions and are not ready for open soil. Replanting and further adaptation is a complicated process, as the plants' root do not have absorbing fibres at this stage."  

For demonstration the teacher is picking up a rare kind of wild ash sorbus, which has already developed the roots.

Having opened the vial and taken out the plant with pincers, he sterilizes the plant in potassium permanganate solution to prevent multiplication of bacteria.

Then the sprout get planted in a special peat ball to keep the sprout aerated and watered.

Before planting in soil, sprouts are placed in special cases with 95-100% humidity. 

One day these trees will reach 15-meter height.

As we have learned from lab workers, they usually clone rare kinds of plants or those, which have difficulties with propagation, mostly those brought from abroad expeditions in a single copy. Later the plants get sold to various firms, both domestic and foreign.

Cloning is a new thing for children. None of them has ever done it at school. They promise to come in several years to see their plants growing.

Oleksandr Olefir has come to the summer school from Rivne region and is very happy with the studies.

"I have defended a master's thesis on microbiology and plan to make it my profession. I am enjoying "Sofiyevka" and lectures on cloning. Here I have composed a professional herbarium and learned new stuff about biotechnology of plants."

Now students are going to the basement of the lab to see numerous herbariums being kelp in special boxes and folders. There are 8000 samples preserved in "Sofiyevka" and the oldest is 441 years old. Before storing the dried plants are placed into a freezing chamber to protect from insect pests. Every year workers of the part bring new unique samples to replenish the collection. 

This is the seed bank for exchange with other scientific research centers. As we have learned from an employee, herbage plants are the most popular.

It also turns out that in "Sofiyevka" park there is a special lot for planting cloned plants from the lab. Lab workers regularly monitor them.

This Sorbus scandica will grow 10-15 meters high and will live for 300 years.

Mykhailo Nebykov complains that tourists often break the plants or take them for their gardens. Date-plum (Diospyros gen.), for example, stayed in the park for two days only and then was gone. Nevertheless, there are still many unique plants living in the park, like a melon tree or certain kinds of pink (Dianthus), which no longer exist in nature.

Unfortunately, the park lacks physical infrastructure and molecular biological labs on DNA analysis to make the studies complete.

JAS director Lisovoy believes that development of laboratory facilities in the National Academy of Science and other scientific centers working with talented children is an urgent matter.

"The whole world is switching to digital labs, and modern children are fast learners. If our children get proper facilities, it may lead to a breakthrough in Ukrainian science, considering genetic inclination of Ukrainians to scientific research and the level of talent, being demonstrated by our children." 

Well, let's hope that despite all difficulties talented young scientists will not grow cold to the studies and will help Ukrainian science to reach international standards, remembering the summer school as the first step on the road to understanding this challenging world.

Anastasia Pika, photos by Maxim Trebukhov


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