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Biology teachers consider basic Mendelian genetics to be value-free, objective science, immune to misinterpretation and misuse. It may thus come as a surprise to learn that in the early days of genetics a cornerstone of genetics education, the dihybrid cross, was employed to support claims of the racial superiority of whites over blacks and to provide a “scientific” rationale for laws prohibiting interracial marriages. In 1917 the prominent eugenicist Charles B. Davenport warned of the danger of “disharmonious combinations” of physical and behavioral traits in the second generation of “wide race crosses,” equivalent to the F2 generation of a dihybrid cross. He tried and failed to find data to support his arguments in a study of the mixed-race inhabitants of Jamaica. Davenport's analysis was deeply flawed, especially by the racist assumptions underlying this work. Although these events occurred a century ago, biology teachers may still be able to use this regrettable episode as an example of how even the most basic science may be misapplied by those with a social or political agenda.
We review software for exploring biological evolution from a fun and educational perspective. Our goal is to provide a background explanation of the methods used, terminology, and user experience, and learning outcomes of desktop and mobile evolutionary simulators. Freeware and commercial programs are detailed, with a discussion of how certain software packages can be used in introducing evolutionary theory.
Student motivation is widely regarded as an essential prerequisite for learning and success. To learn more about biology student motivation and how it changes over time, pre/post-surveys were administered to a large introductory biology course during the fall of 2015. These pre/post-surveys contained motivation subscales from the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI) and the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ). Although students began the course with high levels of motivation, the pre/post-survey scores revealed that their intrinsic motivation, self-efficacy, and value scores declined during the semester. The value/usefulness (IMI), pressure/tension (IMI), and test anxiety (MSLQ) pre-survey scores were the best predictors of course performance. The implications of these findings and suggestions for improving student motivation are discussed.
Symbioses can range from mutualisms to parasitisms; the latter are the foci of this exercise. The way in which parasites are distributed among hosts (their dispersion) can have profound importance for how they and their hosts coevolve, and for many other facets of their biology. Accordingly, many researchers, including ecologists and medical practitioners, study dispersion of parasites in detail. Fungi are commonly observed parasites on leaves of trees. I describe one way to randomly sample leaves to quantify dispersion of such parasites and test whether dispersion is related to a variety of explanatory variables. Significant quantities of data can be generated in relatively short order and pooled for a class; many patterns can emerge that challenge students to find logical interpretations. Relatively sophisticated students could test whether parasites have a random dispersion pattern by comparing the histogram they generate to that of a Poisson distribution. Data can be analyzed in a simple fashion or via advanced mixed models.
Phylogenetic analysis and interpretation can be challenging for many students, but emerging infections can provide a rich tapestry for addressing these topics while maintaining student interest. Ranaviruses are a group of emerging infections in amphibians that have been associated with morbidity and mortality events around the globe. They have also been implicated in population declines and local extirpations of some amphibian species. Many ranaviruses have been subject to intense study by scientists as they seek to understand the impacts of these viruses on a variety of ectothermic animals. A large amount of sequence data is available on GenBank and is easily accessible for students to use to study phylogenetic relationships between different viral species, strains, and isolates. This article examines the general process of obtaining sequence data, sequence alignments, and tree building by using databases, servers, and computer programs that are freely available to all high school and undergraduate students and their instructors. Providing students with a guided framework for exploring their own questions with respect to the evolutionary relationships of ranaviruses can produce some very unique and thought-provoking results.
Image analysis of African rock art creates a unique opportunity to engage in authentic explorations of science and culture using rock art images as data. African rock art and its context provide insights into the intersection of science, scientific research, research ethics, intellectual property, law, government, economy, indigenous people, and crime. This article specifically considers the rock art and other cultural contributions of the San people of Southern Africa, which offer a rich interdisciplinary exploration of biology—including the climate and weather of biomes, plant biology, human physiology, and more. An understanding of the nature of science, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is implicated.
This lab introduces students to experimental design in an inquiry lab exercise that investigates the gut microbiome, basic microbiology techniques, and the broader topic of bacteriology. Fruit flies are used as a model system to study the impact that foods, food additives, and/or antibiotics have on the gut microbiome. One of the major bacteria in the guts of fruit flies is Lactobacillus, which is easy to grow in the lab. This exercise is done in three consecutive lab sessions. During Lab 1, students prepare a standard nutritive medium that has been mixed with a substance of their choice, add the fruit flies to the medium, and practice serial dilution with a simulation. During Lab 2, students plate mashed fruit flies on MRS medium to look at the change in Lactobacillus levels. During Lab 3, students count and determine the change in the number of Lactobacillus in their tested substance, Gram stain selected colonies, and discuss their results as a class. SALG surveys indicated a significant gain in their understanding of the microbiology concepts introduced in this lab.
The Bio-Rad pGLO bacterial transformation kit is commonly used to demonstrate this form of genetic exchange, which occurs in bacteria and eukaryotes and which differs fundamentally from transduction and conjugation. The basic experiment leads to the formation of green fluorescent colonies of Escherichia coli and can be extended to illustrate the specificity of the interaction between sugars and the AraC protein, the phenomenon of carbon catabolite repression, the substrate specificity of the β-lactamase encoded by the plasmid, and the role of host restriction/ modification systems in the transformation process. pGLO DNA also can be isolated using plasmid mini-prep kits, analyzed with restriction endonucleases, and used to study the conditions for transformation in more detail.
The tangle of vegetation may look like an abandoned field. Or an overgrown vacant lot (Figure 1). But it is a farm. And a shining example of indigenous scientific knowledge. Indeed, this image can help us reassess the widespread expectation (this month's Sacred Bovine) that science – or the best modern science – owes its effectiveness to lab experiments and the latest shiny technology. First, we might appreciate how this field can reflect good science, then ask more about science itself in an indigenous context. That might inform us more deeply about how science works.