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Epigcnetics is emerging as one of the most dynamic and vibrant biomedical areas. Multiple lines of evidence confirm that inherited genetic changes alone cannot fully explain all phenotypic characteristics of live organisms, and additional factors, which are not encoded in the DNA sequence, are involved. The contribution of non-genetic factors is perhaps best illustrated by monozygotic twins, which, despite sharing nearly identical DNA sequences, are often discordant for diseases they develop. Even when twins develop the same condition, they may experience different clinical manifestations or clinical onset at different ages. Epigenetic mechanisms explain how a zygote can differentiate into >220 different cell types that form an adult organism and, with rare exceptions, share the same DNA. Increasingly, epigenetic factors emerge, in addition to genetic ones, as important contributors to carcinogenesis. Epigenetic modifications also explain the biological impact of environmental factors, including chemical and dietary compounds, physical agents, pathogens linked to cancer, and social—emotional interactions. Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible, a characteristic that opens unprecedented therapeutic avenues, exemplified by the first epigcnetic drugs that were recently approved. Understanding the combined contribution of genetic and epigenetic factors to gene expression will be essential to dissect the biological networks shaping development and disease, and to develop a new array of prophylactic, diagnostic, and therapeutic applications.
This report describes a novel, inquiry-based learning plan developed as part of the GENA educational outreach project. Focusing on mitochondrial genetics and disease, this interactive approach utilizes pedigree analysis and laboratory techniques to address non-Mendelian inheritance. The plan can be modified to fit a variety of educational goals and is now commercially available.
The author used digital photography to supplement learning of biotechnology by students with a variety of learning styles and educational backgrounds. Because one approach would not be sufficient to reach all the students, digital photography was used to explain the techniques and results to the class instead of having to teach each student individually. To analyze the effectiveness of this teaching technique, the students' responses on various examination questions were analyzed.
As advances in biotechnology and molecular biology rapidly expand in research settings, it is vital that we continue to prepare high school students to enter and thrive in those modern laboratories. This multistep, inquiry-based lab describes highly adaptable methods to teach students not only current molecular techniques and technologies, but also about proteomics and microorganisms. Students participate in protein extraction, gel electrophoresis, mass spectrometry, and data analysis to identify proteins present in microorganisms.
We describe a laboratory exercise developed for the cell and molecular biology quarter of a year-long majors' undergraduate introductory biology sequence. In an analysis of salmon samples collected by students in their local stores and restaurants, DNA sequencing and phylogenetic analysis were used to detect market substitution of Atlantic salmon for Pacific salmon. This allowed students to apply molecular methods such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and DNA sequencing to a socially relevant issue.
Proteomics is an emerging area of systems biology that allows simultaneous study of thousands of proteins expressed in cells, tissues, or whole organisms. We have developed this activity to enable high school or college students to explore proteomic databases using mass spectrometry data files generated from yeast proteins in a college laboratory course. Students upload files of “unknown” proteins from our public website, enter them into a proteomics search engine (Mascot), identify the proteins, and use additional proteomics websites to learn about their functions and three-dimensional structures. This activity is suitable for use in units exploring protein structure and function, metabolism, or bioinformatics.
The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a common technique used in high school and undergraduate science teaching. Students often do not fully comprehend the underlying principles of the technique and how optimization of the protocol affects the outcome and analysis. In this molecular biology laboratory, students learn the steps of PCR with an emphasis on primer composition and annealing temperature, which they manipulate to test the effect on successful DNA amplification. Students design experiments to test their hypotheses, promoting a discovery-based approach to laboratory teaching and development of criticalthinking and reasoning skills.
During this activity, by making beaded bracelets that represent the steps of translation, students simulate the creation of an amino acid chain. They are given an mRNA sequence that they translate into a corresponding polypeptide chain (beads). This activity focuses on the events and sites of translation. The activity provides students with a closer look at the process of translation, not focused solely on pairing codons with amino acids. The students move throughout the classroom, which simulates a nucleus, cytoplasm, a ribosome, and the A site, a P site, and an E site of a ribosome.
The comprehension of chromosome movement during mitosis and meiosis is essential for understanding genetic transmission, but students often find this process difficult to grasp in a classroom setting. I propose a “double-spring model” that incorporates a physical demonstration and can be used as a teaching tool to help students understand this process, particularly the energy changes that occur during different stages of the cell cycle. My teaching experience has demonstrated that this model is very effective, and it has been favorably received by numerous students.
In this article, I describe an animated slideshow of Southern blotting that I have made freely available to other instructors. My hope is to provide a clear visualization of the logistics behind the technique so that instructors have a solid basis — as well as time freed up — to discuss its applications with students.