“Sickle Cell Anemia: Tracking Down a Mutation”: An Interactive Learning Laboratory that Communicates Basic Principles of Genetics and Cellular Biology
“Sickle cell anemia: tracking down a mutation” is a full-day, inquiry-based, biology experience for high school students enrolled in genetics or advanced biology courses. In the experience, students use restriction endonuclease digestion, cellulose acetate gel electrophoresis, and microscopy to discover which of three putative patients have the sickle cell genotype/phenotype using DNA and blood samples from wild-type and transgenic mice that carry a sickle cell mutation. The inquiry-based, problem-solving approach facilitates the students’ understanding of the basic concepts of genetics and cellular and molecular biology and provides experience with contemporary tools of biotechnology. It also leads to students’ appreciation of the causes and consequences of this genetic disease, which is relatively common in individuals of African descent, and increases their understanding of the first principles of genetics. This protocol provides optimal learning when led by well-trained facilitators (including the classroom teacher) and carried out in small groups (6:1 student-to-teacher ratio). This high-quality experience can be offered to a large number of students at a relatively low cost, and it is especially effective in collaboration with a local science museum and/or university. Over the past 15 yr, >12,000 students have completed this inquiry-based learning experience and demonstrated a consistent, substantial increase in their understanding of the disease and genetics in general.