I Teach Evolution, Do You? – Part II

Two weeks ago, I was struck by the information on biology teachers that I read in the article On Evolution, Biology Teachers Stray From Lesson Plan (duplicate post that you don’t have to login in to read) by Nicholas Bakalar.  At that time, I decided that I would share some of my thoughts and lessons that I used to teach evolution in my freshman Biology course. 

This particular lesson is the second of a series of activities that was conducted at the very end of the school year at the end of my unit on genetics after having covered standard Mendelian genetics and content associated with inheritance in humans.

The Biology of Race and Inequality

Lesson 1 – Comparing Chimpanzees using mtDNA Sequences (previous post)

Lesson 2 – Comparing Humans using mtDNA Sequences

Background – In the early summer of 2002, I attended a Dolan DNA Learning Center workshop at the Stowers Institute where a group of biology instructors were introduced to one wet lab and a number of bioinformatics activities associated with their new educational program called Genetic Origins.  Scott Bronson and Ewe Hilgert ran the workshop that specifically introduced us to the study of mitochondrial (mt) DNA and Alu genomic elements.

Objective– For students to apply what they learned in the previous activitiy on comparing chimpanzee mtDNA seqeunces to the analysis to human mtDNA sequences, and to realize that mtDNA comparisons do not support the concept of distinct human races.  

Because the previous activity demonstrated that mtDNA sequences were supportive of their being geographic subspecies of chimpanzees, many students will assume that the data for human mtDNA sequences will be just as supportive of geographic categorization of humans into races (they may even remember that Linneaus had segregated humans into distinct categories as well, although I would not reminded them of this directly). 

In the end, students should notice that the human mtDNA data is different than the chimpanzee mtDNA data, in that there is more variation within groups of humans than there is between those same groups.  In chimps there is significantly more variation between groups than within groups.  The main question that arises from this observation, is “Why is this so?”

Introducing the Activity – I do little introduction for this activity.  Since they would have just complete the comparison of chimpanzee mtDNA sequences, they know what to do and appreciate being allow to just get started.

Potential Supplemental Items

Although I haven’t used these resouces in conjunction with this specific activity, they may be nice additions that would provide students with background on the diaspora of modern human.

1. Spencer Well is Building a Family Tree for All Humanity (20:51)

I would now consider having students view this video for homework, although it is short enough that it could be viewed after they finished the activity above.  Here are some comments about Spencer Wells’ research on the TED website where this video is located.

By analyzing DNA from people in all regions of the world, Spencer Wells has concluded that all humans alive today are descended from a single man who lived in Africa around 60,000 to 90,000 years ago. Now, Wells is working on the follow-up question: How did this man, sometimes called “Y chromosomal Adam,” become the multicultural, globe-spanning body of life known as humanity?

Wells was recently named project director of the National Geographic Society’s multiyear Genographic Project, which uses DNA samples to trace human migration out of Africa. In his 2002 book The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey, he shows how genetic data can trace human migrations over the past 50,000 years, as our ancestors wandered out of Africa to fill up the continents of the globe.

2. Humans May Have Left Africa Earlier Than Thought

Here are two NPR audio stories from this year that may be interesting as well, An Earlier Departure Out of Africa? (9:48) and Tools Suggest Humans Left Africa Earlier via Arabia (4:23).

3. Mr. Wallace’s Line by Jared Diamond (August 1997)

This is a great general introduction to Alfred Wallace and biogeography.  It mainly discusses non-human animal life in the Malay Archipelago, but there is a reference to  Tim Flannary and Jonathon Kingdon’ hypothesis that successful island hopping is responsible for making modern humans modern.  This thought takes a more interesting twist with the more recentdiscovery of Homo floreseinsis on one of these Indonesian Islands.

4. Luigi-Luca Cavalli-Sforza’s book, Genes, Peoples, and Languages (207 pages)

This is a great book that contains relevant background information on population genetics.

NPR Science: February 21

Week of February 21, 2011

Click on the logo above to go the the NPR Science site, or use the links below to navigate to one of the stories that I thought may interest you.

Enjoy listening!

Neat, new way to preserve insects for biology classrooms

From http://dragonflywoman.wordpress.com

Click on this image or this link to Dragonflywoman’s blog to learn how to preserve insects in hand sanitizer….what a cool way to prepare insect specimens for the classroom.


BTW,  you’ll find a lot of great insect resources on her web site.  I think you’ll be impressed.

A BioBlitz Invitation

For those biology folks in the Topeka area, an invitation:

Shunga Bioblitz


TAS is hosting the first Topeka area Bioblitz in the parks along Shunga
Creek in southwest Topeka. It will take place on April 16, 2011 from 6am to
11pm (park hours). TAS would like to see this event bring together all
people who have an interest in biological diversity. You can participate for
any amount of time on the day of the event.

What is a Bioblitz

A BioBlitz is a study where a group of volunteers conduct a one day
intensive biological inventory, attempting to identify and record all
species of living organisms in a given area. Some types of organisms we hope
to inventory: Plants, Fungus, Insects, Spiders, Reptiles, Amphibians, Fish,
Birds, and Mammals

Bioblitz Location

The bioblitz will take place in a complex of parks along Shunga Creek in
southwest Topeka. This Complex of parks includes Wells Park, Warren Nature
Area, and Big Shunga Park. Shunga Creek runs through the south edge of the
area. There is a wetland in the center of Warren Nature Area. Woodlands are
mostly along the creek and grasslands are found north of the creek. The
total area is estimated to be about 300 acres.The area is bordered by Gage
Blvd on the west, the VA & KNI on the north, Macvicar on the east, and 29th
Street on the south.  Meet at the Felker Park Parking Lot, 2540 SW Gage

For more information such as maps of the area, list of birds found, and
registration, follow this link.


Jeff Hansen

NPR Science: February 14

Week of February 14, 2011

Click on the logo above to go the the NPR Science site, or use the links below to navigate to one of the stories that I thought may interest you.

Last week, I showed my students my most recent NPR post and allowed them to pick the story title that most interested them to watch and talk about at the beginning of class.  They picked the video on the Meat-Eating Furniture and were quite intrigued.  Then, I showed them James Randi’s video on Homeopathy.  None of them had heard of homeopathic treatments but they appreciated being educated regarding the difference between these treatments and drugs that have been through FDA approval.

Happy listening!

Becoming Naked and Clothed

Exploring Human Evolution and Culture through the Study of Lice.

Yesterday evening I took the time to watch Nova Science NOW hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  Although I enjoyed the entire program, I was especially intrigued by the segment on the research of David Reed at the University of Florida’s Natural History Museum.

This segment discusses how molecular comparisons of our clothing, head, and pubic lice with the head and pubic lice found in chimpanzees and gorillas, respectively were used to infer the time when modern humans began wearing clothing, and when ancestral humans lost most of our hair.  With so much in the news lately about the diversity of human microbe flora, etc… this research could provide a clear example of the distinct niches that are found on the human body.

Watch the 11 minute segment at the Nova ScienceNOW, and then read the summary article In Lice, Clues to Human Origin and Attire from the New York Times, or download and read pdf’s of the scientific research below.

  1. Origin of Clothing Lice Indicates Early Clothing Use by Anatomically Modern Humans in Africa from the journal of Molecular Biology and Evolution.
  2. Pair of lice lost or parasites regained: the evolutionary history of anthropoid primate licefrom BioMed Central
  3. A list and some links to other publications can be found at Dr. Reed’s website.

I think this would make a great bioinformatics/molecular clock activity as well.

Rebecca Skloot discusses the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Rainy Day Books Event

Wednesday, March 16th, 7:00 pm
Unity Temple on The Plaza
707 W. 47th Street, Kansas City, MO 64112

Rebecca Skloot, New York Times bestselling author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, will appear for the paperback release of her critically-acclaimed book.

REBECCA SKLOOT is a science writer whose articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Discover; Prevention; Glamour; and others. She has worked as a correspondent for NPR’s Radio Lab and PBS’s NOVA scienceNow, and is a contributing editor at Popular Science magazine. Her work has been anthologized in several collections, including The Best Food Writing and The Best Creative Nonfiction. She is a former vice president of the National Book Critics Circle, and has taught nonfiction in the creative writing programs at the University of Memphis and the University of Pittsburgh, and science journalism at New York University’s Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. She blogs about science, life, and writing at Culture Dish, hosted by Seed magazine. This is her first book.

Rebecca Skloot will discuss her research and book, followed by a booksigning.  A Stamped Ticket is required for the booksigning.

Tickets required. $16.00 plus tax includes one trade paperback copy of The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks, one Stamped Admission Ticket, and one Guest Ticket (if needed).  Order a copy of the book using the Add To Cart button on the Rainy Day Books website (link at the top of the page), and specify the number of tickets you need in the Notes field (one or two). If you’d like to pick up your order at the door of this event, choose In-Store Pickup as your shipping option and add in the Notes field that you’d like At-Event Pickup. Your order will be held under your name at Will Call. The cutoff time for online ordering is 2:00 PM on the day of the event.

Brian Greene discusses the Hidden Reality

Rainy Day Books & Linda Hall Library Event

Thursday, March 3, 7:00 pm
Unity Temple on The Plaza
707 W. 47th Street, Kansas City, MO 64112

BRIAN GREENE received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and his doctorate from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He joined the physics faculty of Cornell University in 1990, was appointed to a full professorship in 1995, and in 1996 joined Columbia University, where he is professor of physics and mathematics. He has lectured at both a general and a technical level in more than thirty countries, and on all seven continents, and is widely regarded for a number of groundbreaking discoveries in superstring theory. His first book, The Elegant Universe, was a national best seller and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His most recent book, The Fabric of the Cosmos, was also a best seller. He lives in Andes, New York, and New York City.

The author will discuss his latest research and his new book, followed by a question and answer session with the audience. A booksigning will follow the program. Brian Greene will sign books purchased from Rainy Day Books before or at this event.

This event is free and open to the public; however, seating is limited and tickets are required. Complete the online form at http://www.lindahall.org/events/attend.php, email events@lindahall.org or call (816) 926-8772 with your name, address, phone number, and the number of individuals in your party. Please specify you plan to attend the Brian Greene event. Tickets will be mailed prior to the lecture.

Please contact Eric Ward (816-926-8753) for more information on this event.

Microarray Technology in Biomedical Research

Johnson County Community College Scholars Lecture

Stanislav Svojanovsky
Tuesday, February 22nd – this is a rescheduled date
7-8:00 p.m.

M.R. and Evelyn Hudson Auditorium
2nd floor of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art

To be healthy, people have to have all their genes doing the right thing at the right time. Disruption in gene expression is responsible for many diseases.  And now new technology, microarrays, allows scientists to analyze gene expression as a way to understand diseases with underlying genetic causes and pinpoint possible therapies.

In this lecture, Svojanovsky will provide an overview of the microarray technology development and its application in current biomedical research, looking at its multiple steps from data acquisition through statistical analysis and biological interpretations.

A reception precedes the event at 6:30 p.m. in the Regnier Center.

For more information about the JCCC College Scholars program, contact Karen Martley, director, Staff and Organizational Development, 913-469-8500, ext. 3467.

Solar Powered Hornet?

This study came out late last year, but I recently discovered it.  I didn’t get access to the whole article, but I have posted the abstract and a link to one of the sites that has the article below.  My students thought it was really interesting, and we talked about it as an end to our photosynthesis objective.

Oriental Hornet

The Oriental hornet worker correlates its digging activity with solar insolation. Solar radiation passes through the epicuticle, which exhibits a grating-like structure, and continues to pass through layers of theexo-endocuticle until it is absorbed by the pigment melanin in the brown-colored cuticle or xanthopterin in the yellow-colored cuticle. The correlation between digging activity and the ability of the cuticle to absorb part of the solar radiation implies that the Oriental hornet may harvest parts of the solar radiation. In this study, we explore this intriguing possibility by analyzing the biophysical properties of the cuticle. We use rigorous coupled wave analysis simulations to show that the cuticle surfaces are structured to reduced reflectance and act as diffraction gratings to trap light and increase the amount absorbed in the cuticle. A dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC) was constructed in order to show the ability of xanthopterin to serve as a light-harvesting molecule.

The whole article: http://www.springerlink.com/content/w657861740333733/