Money, Sex, and Drugs: Exciting College Freshmen About Genetics

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Developer Jason Kuehner and Karen Cloud-Hansen
Primary Learning Goals

Students will understand the fundamentals of gene expression and how changes in genotype can perturb phenotype (Essential)

Students will be able to critically analyze information to support a position on a complex and current scientific issue, while also justifying the political and socio-economic impact (Essential)

Students will understand how a mutation in the gyrA or parC genes of Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria can lead to ciprofloxacin resistance (Important)

Students will understand that antibiotic resistance is a predictable consequence of natural selection, but steps can be taken to delay the process (Important)

Students will know the prevalence of antibiotic resistance at a national and local level and how experts from different fields are addressing the problem (Illustrative)

Secondary Learning Goals

Students will be able to construct the flow of genetic information from DNA to RNA to protein and list the potential outcomes of a DNA replication error

Students will be able to collaborate in groups and formulate a solution to a case study problem concerning the emergence of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea in Racine, WI

Students will be able to complete a sequential ordering exercise describing how a mutation can alter an antibiotic target site

Students will be able to correct common misconceptions concerning antibiotic resistance and evolution in the “What's wrong with this statement?” worksheet

Students will be able to identify populations at high risk for acquiring antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea in their case study solution and provide a rationale for their selection

Scientific Teaching Themes

In contrast to a traditional lecture-driven course, this teachable unit was designed using the framework of scientific teaching. As much as possible, students are encouraged to actively seek, interpret, and synthesize their own information, rather than act as passive beneficiaries. In accordance with the nature of science, students are challenged with a complex problem that is most effectively addressed with a collaborative effort.


This teachable unit implements a variety of instructional formats in order to reach a diverse student audience. The class activities appeal to auditory (e.g. podcast), visual (e.g. powerpoint mini-lectures, “tiny world” video), and kinesthetic (e.g. sequential ordering) learners. In addition, the unit incorporates both individual and group work.

The podcast and case study activity expose students to a variety of local and national experts, all of whom address the problem of antibiotic resistance from different professional backgrounds. The podcast interview with Craig Roberts, a physician assistant at the campus clinic, provides an example of how a healthcare worker deals with the issue on a day to day basis. This should be of particular interest to “Ways of Knowing Biology” students, who are taking the course partly out of their interest in careers that can stem from a biology major. The case study challenges students to consider the limits and biases of epidemiological studies. The setting of the case study (Racine, WI) was specifically chosen to address this point, and much of the primary literature resources focus on diagnostic STD tests being implemented in developing countries.

Active Learning

Active learning is incorporated into the teaching unit through frequent in-class activities. The activities often follow a mini-lecture and give the students an immediate opportunity to accommodate new information into their existing base of knowledge. The active learning activities emphasize the key concepts of the mini-lecture, invoke the power of group learning, and directly confront common misconceptions.

For example, in order to emphasize the concept that “genotype can perturb phenotype”, students engage in a sequential-ordering exercise in which they arrange major steps of gene expression into the correct order. A similar exercise is performed with expression of the bacterial gyrA gene and how it relates to the mechanism of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin. Finally, the students determine how the expression of a mutant version of the gyrA gene could result in ciprofloxacin resistance. This activity leads into a discussion of the common misconceptions that all mutations cause a change in a protein and/or a phenotype and that all mutations are bad for an organism.


Frequent in-class activities, informal monitoring of group work, and group contributions to class discussion provide formative assessment. The group case report, for which a grading rubric is provided, and the pre/post quiz provide a comprehensive summative assessment.