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One of the most successful prophylactic interventions in the history of public health, vaccination helped control some of the deadliest and most debilitating infectious diseases. As a result of vaccination programs, smallpox was eradicated worldwide, poliomyelitis was nearly eradicated and emerges as the next eradication target, and national programs helped reduce the incidence of tuberculosis in many countries. Other, more recent vaccines have already achieved a visible impact, as revealed by the ability of the hepatitis B vaccine to decrease the number of new hepatitis infections and the incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma. While vaccination, like any other medical intervention, may have adverse effects, significant controversies gravitated, in recent years, around its supposed link to autism. One of the articles that provided substantial support for this link was recently retracted amid evidence of ample scientific and ethical misconduct. As studies from several countries found that the incidence of autism was increasing even after the removal of thimerosal from vaccines, it appears that, in all likelihood, this trend was not caused by the mercurycontaining preservative, and potential causes have to be pursued somewhere else. Although many early vaccines were prepared empirically from live attenuated or inactivated pathogens, recent years have witnessed a shift toward a more rational strategy, in which concepts from disciplines including molecular biology, genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics arc increasingly incorporated into vaccine design, transforming vaccinology into a dynamic and vibrant interdisciplinary field.
An undergraduate environmental microbiology course was used to examine the hypothesis that students could best grow as biologists, inform career decisions, and experience the scientific process by engaging in a collaborative, research-based laboratory format. Students learned how to use scientific literature to formulate relevant questions and hypotheses and develop detailed experimental research proposals. They collected, analyzed, interpreted, and presented original scientific data in the form of a research-poster conference. Course objectives were measured using two Likert-style surveys, and the resulting data supported the original hypothesis of this work.
An alternative approach to teaching microbial diversity was designed to enhance learning of important concepts in microbiology, increase retention of content, improve microbiology-related skill sets, and positively influence student interest in and disposition toward the natural sciences.
Few laboratory exercises are designed to teach biology students about barriers that may constrain the movement of organisms. We describe a unique inquirybased exercise involving Lego mazes (the barrier) and the plasmodial slime mold, Physarum polycephalum (the organism). During guided inquiry, students construct mazes using Lego brand building blocks and the slime mold is allowed to “navigate” through the maze and “respond” to the barrier. Students then generate and test hypotheses about the movement of the slime mold in response to different barriers in the open-inquiry phase of the investigation.
Effective investigations incorporate all four features of constructivist teaching. This high school or college-level field investigation guides teachers (and students) through the stages of inquiry. The focal concept is ecosystem function, specifically leaf decay rates in aquatic environments. Teachers elicit their students' prior knowledge and use it to generate discussion on variables that influence decay rates. Students engage in designing and conducting experiments. The learning cycle is continued when students apply their new knowledge and receive feedback, and completed when students return to their initial conceptions of leaf decay and reflect on the knowledge they gained through scientific experimentation.
Sunlight is required for vital biological processes. However, solar ultraviolet radiation can have a detrimental impact on living organisms, by acting as a natural mutagenic agent. With this activity, intended for middle school and high school, we propose a simple hands-on experiment to investigate the bactericidal effect of sunlight. The activity provides appealing visual results and opportunities for extension of inquiry. Procedural instructions, discussion topics, and assessment suggestions are detailed.
Modern microscopy techniques generate an enormous amount of data in the form of images. Manual analysis of these images produces biased results that are often not reproducible. To extract the numerical data from the images, a free and user-friendly software called ImageJ is available at the NIH website. In this interactive tutorial, students will get acquainted with the applications of ImageJ and learn to measure cell area from the images.