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Be a DNA Detective

Full Day
Book Program
Year Levels


Sugar gliders are small marsupials native to areas in eastern Australia. Their cute appearance has made them a popular choice as an exotic pet in some overseas countries such as the United States. There is an albino form of the sugar glider, which due to its recessive traits, is more rare and therefore more expensive. However, sugar gliders cannot be kept as pets in Western Australia, New South Wales, the ACT, Queensland or Tasmania due to animal welfare risks including neglect, cruelty and abandonment.

In this program, students will investigate two environmental scenarios. Firstly, students consider a case where an albino joey sugar glider is stolen from a conservation park to be smuggled out of Victoria. Smuggling of fauna often results in severe stress to the animals, loss of biodiversity, transfer of diseases and sometimes they can become pests in their new environment. Students determine, through biotechnology, who the smuggler is from a group of suspects.

With population decreases, there is also an increased risk of inbreeding. On planning to reintroduce the joey to the park, students have to determine from which of four possible breeding pairs this offspring may have come. They do a paternity analysis to ensure that the joey is placed in a new group in order to maintain a healthy genetic population.

Key Learning Question

How can DNA be used to solve environmental issues?

Prior Knowledge

Knowledge of DNA structure is preferable.

Learning Intentions

In this program, students will:

  • Become familiar with the structure and function of DNA and some inheritance mechanisms
  • See how biotechnology techniques can be used for DNA fingerprinting and paternity analysis
  • Gain an understanding of how gel electrophoresis works


Students will:

  • Observe sugar gliders and consider their vulnerability as a smuggled animal
  • Build and examine model DNA
  • Cut DNA into fragments using restriction enzymes
  • Run gel electrophoresis on the DNA
  • Analyse gels for DNA fingerprinting and paternity


  • Max 50 students per day

Victorian Curriculum

Science – Science as a human endeavour

  • Advances in scientific understanding often rely on developments in technology and technological advances are often linked to scientific discoveries (VCSSU115)

Science – Biological sciences

  • The transmission of heritable characteristics from one generation to the next involves DNA and genes (VCSSU119)

Science – Planning and conducting

  • Select and use appropriate equipment and technologies to systematically collect and record accurate and reliable data, and use repeat trials to improve accuracy, precision and reliability (VCSIS136)

Learning Continuum

The following Learning Continuum is a guide for teachers to show the links between the programs. Ecolinc offers onsite, online and through outreach. The Learning Continuum can be used to access Ecolinc resources to support the development of units of work.

Ecolinc Learn Online is an online learning management system offering interactive online courses for students and teachers. These courses can be undertaken either as a pre-visit, post-visit or stand-alone. Students are encouraged to do the pre-learning course before coming to Ecolinc for the onsite program.

Learn Online Pre-program:

DNA Detectives


Be a DNA Detective