April 20, 2009
Source: Piedmont 2005

Jacob, Nitya
Oxford College Biology Department


Project Summary

I attended the Piedmont Project to develop an environmental component for my Spring 2006 course – Biology 142. Biology 142 is the second course in the Introductory Biology curriculum at Oxford College. The purpose of this course is to take students to the next level of concepts in the field of genetics, after an initial introduction to the subject in Biology 141 – Cell Biology and Genetics. Biology 142 covers cellular mechanisms in genetics, molecular structures and the study of DNA and RNA in detail. The cellular and molecular focus of this course often leaves the student removed from the whole organism.

I will be introducing a new laboratory research module into Biology 142 in Spring 2006 to help the students to understand genetics from the perspective of the whole organism. The research module will be conducted over the length of the whole semester. The laboratory is developed on the theme “genes, organisms and the environment” with the objective of providing students with a combined experience field and laboratory bench work. Students will take a field trip to two local granite outcrops near Oxford, GA, where they will be introduced to the ecology of the unique environment at these locations. The lab field visit will introduce students to rock outcrops, diversity of organisms, local ecological history, etc. They will collect microbial samples from various niches within this environment for further study. Students will be divided into research teams and each team will select a different question for investigation about their microbe collections. The questions should be related towards examining the diversity of microbes in specific areas of the outcrops. Investigations may be conducted on differences between outcrops, differences in microbial diversity on the outcrops versus an artificially constructed environment, and so on. While developing their investigation questions, students will automatically think about associations between organisms and their environment. The microbes collected from the outcrops will be taken back to the laboratory and during successive laboratory exercises (see syllabus), teams will extract DNA from their samples, conduct the process of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to specifically isolate ribosomal DNA fragments from their bacterial colonies. They will then proceed to clone and sequence these fragments. The resulting rDNA sequences will be analyzed using bioinformatics computer software. At the end of the project, each research team will have an assessment of biological diversity via DNA sequence analysis, and other observations. Although all research teams will be conducting the same procedures in the laboratory, each will be examining a different question regarding microbial diversity.

The lecture component of the course will leave room for discussion of applied topics and ethical concerns in the field of genetics. The syllabus allots specific days for students to examine topics such as genetics and the environment, genetically modified organisms, ethics and sustainability of a biological ecosystem, which are directly related to the laboratory research module. These will be discussed both in the class and the laboratory. For example, students will be learning the methods of gene cloning and genetic transformation in the laboratory and will also discuss the applications of these techniques in class. This will spark discussion about the environmental impact of genetic applications.

At the Piedmont Project workshop, I learned about several concepts that are important while teaching with an environmental theme. The following are the ways in which Biology 142 will connect with certain themes I learned in the workshop:

“A Sense of Place” – The field visit with my students will give them a better understanding of local resources and ecology. They will have a clear view of the environment in which a variety of organisms flourish. This will give them an opportunity to appreciate a living environment, rather than having a purely laboratory view of biological life. Rather than working with organisms supplied to them (usually ordered from biological supply companies), they will be in touch with actual physical environment of the rock outcrop organisms.

“Sustainability” – The laboratory project will help the students understand the concept of sustainability in a biological ecosystem. Their laboratory research on biodiversity and interaction of plants and microbes will provide a premise to discuss sustainability in our surrounding environments. The outcrops contained disturbed areas where students can carry out investigations, which can also be useful in teaching them about sustainability.

“Impact on Human Life” – Students will learn about genetic analysis through their laboratory project. In the classroom we will discuss the impact of such technology on human life especially medical and agricultural practices. They will be given an opportunity to reflect on the future directions in genetic research and how this might affect human life.

“Hidden Curriculum” - I hope that the field experience, the discussions and assignments in Biology 142 will lead the students to have an increased awareness of biological life in their surrounding areas. Even as they pursue further studies in the area of genetics and genetic engineering, I would like them think objectively about the benefits and drawbacks of genetic technology. I hope that this course will bring them in contact with social, ethical, and environmental issues, which they can also think about in other aspects of their lives.

Course Syllabus attached.

Download: Jacob_2005.pdf (171.9 KB)

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