Web Based Genetics Inquiry Lab

Virtual Courseware Banner

If you need a good inquiry project for students during this hectic time of year, go to http://www.sciencecourseware.org/vcise/ . The Virtual Courseware Drosophila lab is very interactive, develops inquiry skills, comes with prepared assessments, and documents the links to national science standards. Individual students or group projects can be accommodated. All results and student reports are stored on an external, web-accessible server so that students and teachers can manage the projects and collect data from any internet connected computer.

Recent Adaptation Evidence in the Human Genome

Warning: Proud father’s posting ahead……

This past summer, one of the NY Times Tuesday Science issues was focused on evolution studies. One of the research papers highlighted by Nicholas Wade in his article titled, “Humans Have Spread Globally and Evolved Locally” , had native Kansan, Scott Williamson, as lead author. The work received quite a bit of additional publicity. Here’s the lead paragraphs of an article that I think is the best summary that I have seen written about the article.

Cornell Chronicle Online, July 11, 2007
Evidence that up to 10 percent of human genome may have changed very recently revealed by CU researchers
By Krishna Ramanujan

A Cornell study of genome sequences in African-Americans, European-Americans and Chinese suggests that natural selection has caused as much as 10 percent of the human genome to change in some populations in the last 15,000 to 100,000 years, when people began migrating from Africa.

The study, published in the June 1 issue of PLoS (Public Library of Science) Genetics, looked for areas where most members of a population showed the same genetic changes. For example, the researchers found evidence of recent selection on skin pigmentation genes, providing the genetic data to support theories proposed by anthropologists for decades that as anatomically modern humans migrated out of Africa and experienced different climates and sunlight levels, their skin colors adapted to the new environments.

However, the study found no evidence of differences in genes that control brain development among the various geographical groups, as some researchers have proposed in the past.

Now I’m not just bringing this to your attention because Scott happens to be our (Carol’s and my) son. Actually, I think you’ll find the results timely for your classroom–particularly the table that summarizes the different recent adaptations in various populations. In addition, you might notice that that they provide contrary evidence to some of the claimed brain development adaptations recently reported. Science at work. Check it out, you’ll find the table useful.

Here’s the author’s summary from the article:

Author Summary

A selective sweep is a single realization of adaptive evolution at the molecular level. When a selective sweep occurs, it leaves a characteristic signal in patterns of variation in genomic regions linked to the selected site; therefore, recently released population genomic datasets can be used to search for instances of molecular adaptation. Here, we present a comprehensive scan for complete selective sweeps in the human genome. Our analysis is complementary to several recent analyses that focused on partial selective sweeps, in which the adaptive mutation still segregates at intermediate frequency in the population. Consequently, our analysis identifies many genomic regions that were not previously known to have experienced natural selection, including consistent evidence of selection in centromeric regions, which is possibly the result of meiotic drive. Genes within selected regions include pigmentation candidate genes, genes of the dystrophin protein complex, and olfactory receptors. Extensive testing demonstrates that the method we use to detect selective sweeps is strikingly robust to both alternative demographic scenarios and recombination rate variation. Furthermore, the method we use provides precise estimates of the genomic position of the selected site, which greatly facilitates the fine-scale mapping of functionally significant variation in human populations.


Action BioScience

AIBS –American Institute of Biological Sciences has a great resource for teachers called ActionBioScience. You’ll find a number of very accessible articles on current biological science issues written by leaders in the field.
Action BioScience
A summary of what you’ll find from the editorial assistant, Nathan Stenstrom:
ActionBioscience.org offers resources to enhance teaching in the biosciences:
* Peer-reviewed, easy-to-read articles on bioscience issues, which make excellent student reading material or content for case study activities
* Educator-written lessons to accompany many of the articles with handouts for middle school, high school, and/or college level students
* NSES correlation charts that match our articles and lessons to national standards, making lesson planning an easier process
* Spanish translations of select articles, useful for ESL students who need to improve their science language literacy skills”

Leaf Color and Inquiry

Leaf color

As many of you know, I am in upstate New York this summer and fall. I’m simply amazed that fall is progressing so fast. This photo were taken back on Aug. 24th. Leaf color as a topic for inquiry has a great deal of potential. Nearly everyone living in the Northern temperate areas, at one time or another, has marveled at the brilliant foliage displays and asked the question: “Why do leaves turn color?”

Carl Zimmer, author, blogger from Science Blogs and science writer for the NY Times is also fascinated by leaves. Carl has a 4 year series of articles that explore the ongoing research into why leaves turn color in the fall. This is a great place to begin an investigation into how science works in a way that is very accessible to students (and teachers).

Carl does a great job of summarizing the pace and direction of the leaf color research in an article that appeared in the NY Times and in the following blog posts: 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004,and 2003.

Carl’s excellent articles refer directly to the original papers–many of them available online. Because of the intrinsic interest in this phenomenon, I think you’ll find these papers very accessible to you and your students with Carl’s introduction.

An additional resource that you are going to want to check out is at the Harvard Forest website. There you’ll find a very comprehensive resource about the biology of Autumn Leaf Color as well as links to the pdf’s of many of the relevant research papers.

I hope to find time to dissect the questions that are asked in these articles and how you might want to do some investigating on your own in future postings. Consider reading these articles as you explore the woods this fall and let your own mind wander and find new questions about leaf color that you and your kids might try to answer.


Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers Resources


As you prepare for this year, consider adding at least one involved laboratory experience for you and your students to your curriculum. The web is full of excellent resources for you. The CIBT labsfrom Cornell’s HHMI program are just one example.

Several years ago, Kylee Sharp shared a presentation at a KABT gathering (may have been KATS) about the “Goldenrod Lab” she had learned about at an NABT convention. She had a printed resource that she really would have like to have distributed but she didn’t feel that she could because it was copyrighted and she didn’t have permission. That resource was from the Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers–A long-time HHMI funded program that has done a great deal over the years to provide resources to help biology teachers to their job, better. Well, the CIBT has now made all of their printed lab resources available online and Kylee can now share this lab with others with a clear conscience.

Check out these labs, there are 32 different labs that deeply involve the student and teacher in inquiry, are well tested, and cover a diversity of biology topics. The web site is not the easiest to navigate so here are the categories of labs with links to the labs in that category. You’ll need a pdf viewer to access the labs.

    Chemistry for Biology
    Ecology and Evolution
    Everyday Biology
    Molecular Biology
    Reproduction & Development