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Class advisor Jocelyn Formento helps Molly Tobin. Formento retired from Genentech where she helped develop the cancer drug Avastin. (Dan Coyro/Sentinel)

SANTA CRUZ -- The 26 students inside a science lab at Harbor High on Thursday worked tediously to remove dabs of jellyfish DNA from vials and drop the clear liquid into pools of bacteria the size of a living-room coaster.

They'll know if the experiment was done correctly if the harmless bacteria, after sitting overnight with the jellyfish DNA, glows fluorescent green when exposed to UV light.

"A lot of people think you blow things up in science lab," said Kim Tolchinsky, a Harbor High senior who aspires to become a doctor. "We're making things glow, which is kinda cool."

The students are part of an inaugural biotechnology class offered by the County Office of Education's Regional Occupation Program. The class, held at Harbor High, includes seniors from schools countywide who rank among the top in their science classes.

The cutting-edge class was created by Jocelyn Formento, a Santa Cruz resident and former Genentech executive of 25 years who helped the San Francisco biotech giant develop breakthrough medicines such as Avastin, a drug used in fighting cancer.

Formento saw biotechnology classes being offered at schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, most notably the 30-year-old biotech class at San Mateo High School, and thought Santa Cruz students should have the same opportunity since the field continues to grow each year even in a bad economy.

Formento acts as an assistant to ROP science teacher Glenn Reed, who taught science at Harbor High before retiring a couple of years ago and going to work for the County Office of Education.

"There's a lot of job demand and great careers in biotech," Formento said. "What we're doing today is a fundamental technique in biotech: changing the traits of the bacteria. This is something we want to make sure they learn."

Biotechnology is offered only to high-achieving science students. Chemistry is a prerequisite, though many of the students have taken advanced placement biology and physics as well.

Aptos High senior Julius Solbes-Moran, 17, has applied to some of the country's most elite universities, including Stanford and USC, in pursuit of his goal of getting a biology degree to conduct medical research. He believes the ROP biotechnology class will help the goal become reality.

"I'm very interested in biology, specifically biotechnology," Solbes-Moran said. "This class helps me decide if I want to go into this field."

Molly Tobin, 17, hopes the class will give her an advantage with the admissions officials at UC Davis, where she wants to study veterinary science.

"I really like science, it's my favorite class," she said. "This lab seems applicable to real life stuff."

Follow Sentinel reporter Shanna McCord on Twitter at Twitter.com/scnewsmom