Introducing Students to the Genome: Brave New World or the Red Queen’s Wonderland?

Published:2017, The American Biology Teacher, National Association of Biology Teachers
Apr 2017, 79(4):253.
DOI: 10.1525/abt.2017.79.4.253
Authors:Wray, C.

Genomics, Genetics, Laboratory, Bioethics, Bioinformatics, Professional Development, Teacher, High School

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Revolutions in science are rare but as with change in any field, they represent times of challenge, excitement, possibility, and even responsibility. We are firmly in a genomic revolution, and just as biology is changing, so too must our educational integration of this new knowledge.

Mendelian principles have been firmly established for nearly one hundred years, but our understanding of genetic diversity has only just come into focus. In the 1950s, Hermann Muller defended the position that most humans were genetically homozygous and wild-type, while Theodosius Dobzhansky argued that heterozygosity, or allelic diversity, was the common state in sexually reproducing animals. A decade later, Harry Harris and Richard Lewontin, using starch gel electrophoresis on samples from humans and fruit flies, uncovered significant levels of protein diversity as convincing evidence demonstrating high levels of underlying genetic diversity, thus supporting Dobzhansky’s earlier view.

Most of the genetics pioneers would be astounded by the levels of DNA sequence and protein diversity revealed by modern, large-scale genome sequencing efforts. Modern genomics started with the original, NIH-funded reference genome sequence—a single genome derived from samples collected from several individuals. Quickly thereafter, …

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