Molecular Biology: Major Concepts and Learning Activities

This overview reviews key concepts and learning activities to help students understand how genes influence our traits by molecular processes.  Topics covered include basic understanding of the important roles of proteins and DNA; DNA structure, function and replication; the molecular biology of how genes influence traits, including transcription and translation; the molecular biology of mutations; and genetic engineering.  To help students understand the relevance of these molecular processes, the suggested learning activities link alleles of specific genes to human characteristics such as albinism, sickle cell anemia and muscular dystrophy. Suggested activities include hands-on laboratory and simulation activities, web-based simulations, discussion activities and a vocabulary review game. This activity is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

The attached file has the overview of key concepts and learning activities, with links to the activities. 

The Molecular Biology of Mutations and Muscular Dystrophy

In this analysis and discussion activity students explore the effects of different types of point mutations and deletion mutations and analyze the reasons why deletion mutations generally have more severe effects than point mutations.  Students use their understanding of the molecular biology of mutations to analyze the genetic basis for the differences in severity of two types of muscular dystrophy.    

The first attached file has the Student Handout and the second attached file has the Teacher Notes. The Teacher Notes provide background information and instructional suggestions and explain how this activity is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.  

From Gene to Polypeptide -- The Roles of the Base Pairing Rules and the Genetic Code

The questions in this analysis and discussion activity reinforce student understanding of the information flow from a gene to a polypeptide, with an emphasis on understanding the roles of the base-pairing rules and the genetic code chart.

The first attached file has the Student Handout and the second attached file has the Teacher Notes. 

DNA Structure, Function and Replication

This analysis and discussion activity can be used to introduce your students to key concepts about DNA structure, function and replication or to review these topics. This activity includes hands-on modeling of DNA replication. 

The first attached file has the Student Handout and the second attached file has the Teacher Notes. The Teacher Notes provide background information and instructional suggestions and explain how this activity is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

Molecular Biology Vocabulary Review Game

This game helps students to enjoy reviewing vocabulary related to molecular biology, including DNA and RNA structure and function, transcription and translation. Each card in the deck has a target vocabulary word and two related taboo words that the student may not use as he/she gives clues so the other students in his/her small group can guess the target word. Many students have trouble learning the substantial new vocabulary required for biology, and this game lets students have fun while reinforcing their understanding of key terms. 

The first file below provides the master copy for creating the card decks for this game, and the second file below provides the teacher notes, including instructions for playing the game. 

jmorgant's picture

Animal behavior & gender/sexuality norms

The video “Nature: What Females Want…and What Males Will Do” featured clichéd, even asinine commentary about animals’ reproductive behavior. The DVD showed heterosexual animal interactions punctuated with quotes from biologists and the narrator such as “Males will do anything they can do copulate with a female – we know that!” In a look a male geladas, whose ability to withstand sub-0 nighttime temperatures is demonstrated by the deep red of their chest patches, were described as “Pretty tough!” Female fireflies that mocked another species’ light patterns in order to eat the males were described as “true femme fatales.” In reference to jumping spiders, a biologist explained,  “Females are looking for complex things; they want more and more, so males have evolved these dances.” Red-sided garter snakes that were forcibly inseminated would in a day or so “have another chance at love.” This constant commentary, while meant to be entertaining, was not only distracting but often times offensive because of the way it demonstrated stereotypes about gender and sexuality.

jmorgant's picture

Is rape biological?

I was fascinated by the concept of “cryptic choice” introduced in the video “Nature: What Females Want…and What Males Will Do.” Female red-sided garter snakes are rendered immobile by males competing to inseminate her. They have, however, evolved a means of defense against forced copulation: they can choose which of the snake’s sperm will fertilize their eggs. Another example of “cryptic choice” is seen in ducks’ reproductive systems: they twist opposite ways to make reproduction more difficult. A third of ducks’ copulations are forced, but they produce only 3% of the young. Explained the narrator, “Evolution has given females the edge.” Last week, my psychology-major roommate sent me an article called “Women’s Avoidance of Rape” which, like the video, acknowledged that “Sexual coercion and rape have been documented in many different species.”

Katie Randall's picture

Medical Authority in the Discourses of Disability and Transsexuality

Medical Authority in the Discourses of Disability and Transsexuality


Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness and Liberation is an impossibly far-ranging book. Its author Eli Clare covers many topics that are entangled within his own life: tensions of class, sexuality, gender, abuse, disability, environmentalism and exile. Here I want to use his discussion of the medicalization of disability as a springboard to approach Rachel Ann Heath’s description of the pathologization of transsexuality in The Praeger Handbook of Transsexuality: Changing Gender to Match Mindset. Medicalization and pathologization are not precisely equivalent terms, but to me both represent a process of delegitimizing their subjects and placing this lost authority into the hands of medical professionals. Both produce negative or limiting effects that are not widely acknowledged. In addition, both are oriented towards “curing” or “normalizing” difference.


Exile and Pride: disability history

Kaye's picture

Sex and Gender Differences in Cognition and Neurobiology

I just received an announcement about this very relevant conference that is being held at Drexel University College of Medicine on Thursday, October 27, 2011 from 9 am - 4 pm.  Regisration is free.  Please see the website for more information. 

lissiem's picture

Education levels the playing field

The playing field in America is definitely not level, but I believe that education is not at fault.  Education is something everyone should acquire because it allows people to further themselves in life.  For instance, in Shorris' study where he gave lower class a basic education, it allowed them to continue on to college and hold their own.  However, even though many people are becoming education, those who "make it" or find the level where they can compete with others in life, have certain characteristics that allow them to reach this place, and its not their level of education.  It is money and connections.  Shorris' students, although they did not have money, found the connections through his program that allowed them to continue onto college and make a name for themselves.  Other students have money. The ability to pay for college automatically puts that person ahead of one who cannot afford an education. And even on a smaller scale with kids in the same school district, some parents may be able to afford to send them on community service trips or pay for music lessons.  The ability to pay for these things is basically the ability to buy yourself into college, because it is these things, the extra circulars, that make a difference in the college application. Basically, the playing field really can't be leveled when personal finances come into play. 

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