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Epigenetics involves heritable changes in gene expression that do not involve alterations in the DNA sequence. I developed an active-learning approach to convey this topic to students in a college genetics course. I posted a brief summary of the topic before class to stimulate exchange in cooperative groups. During class, we discussed the genotypic and phenotypic differences between monozygotic twins and the role of epigenetic mechanisms in these differences. I also presented the molecular mechanisms that lead to these epigenetic changes as well as techniques used to study them. Students were particularly interested in pondering the relationships between environmental interactions, epigenetic changes, and phenotypic consequences, including human behavior.
Phylogenetic trees, such as the “Tree of Life,” are commonly found in biology textbooks and are often used in teaching. Because students often struggle to understand these diagrams, I developed a simple, inexpensive classroom model. Made of pipe cleaners, it is easily manipulated to rotate branches, compare topologies, map complete lineages, identify informative phylogenetic features, and examine the effects of superficial structural changes.
How can science instruction help students and teachers engage in relevant genetics content that stimulates learning and heightens curiosity? Project-based science can enhance learning and thinking in science classrooms. We describe how we use project-based science features as a framework for a genetics unit, discuss some of the challenges encountered, and provide suggestions for enactment. This serves as an example of how project-based approaches can be integrated into high school science classrooms.
Do our genes exclusively control us, or are other factors at play? Epigenetics can provide a means for students to use inquiry-based methods to understand a complex biological concept. Students research and design an experiment testing whether dietary supplements affect the lifespan of Drosophila melanogaster over multiple generations.
The Y chromosome is of great interest to students and can be used to teach about many important biological concepts in addition to sex determination. This paper discusses mutation, recombination, mammalian sex determination, sex determination in general, and the evolution of sex determination in mammals. It includes a student activity that illustrates how sex is determined in people.
This lesson uses characters from the Harry Potter series of novels as a “hook” to stimulate students' interest in introductory forensic science. Students are guided through RFLP (restriction fragment length polymorphism) analysis using inexpensive materials and asked to interpret data from a mock crime scene. Importantly, the lesson provides an opportunity to discuss limitations of using DNA fingerprinting for forensic purposes and addresses a common misconception that the sophisticated science involved in crime-scene analysis is infallible.
I present a learning cycle that explores different biotechnologies using the process of in situ hybridization as a platform. Students are presented with a cyclopic lamb and must use biotechnology to discover the mechanism behind the deformity. Through this activity, students learn about signal transduction and discover the processes of polymerase chain reaction, gel electrophoresis, restriction enzyme digests and ligations, cloning, and transformation. Students also discover the nature of scientific inquiry and practice hypothetico-deductive reasoning.
The beta hemoglobin protein is identical in humans and chimpanzees. In this tutorial, students see that even though the proteins are identical, the genes that code for them are not. There are many more differences in the introns than in the exons, which indicates that coding regions of DNA are more highly conserved than non-coding regions.