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Why Do We Have to Learn This Stuff?”—A New Genetics for 21st Century Students

  • Rosemary J. Redfield mail

    redfield@zoology.ubc.ca

    Affiliation: Department of Zoology, Life Sciences Institute, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

    X
  • Published: July 03, 2012
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001356

Reader Comments (24)

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Should physics abandon Newton?

Posted by bgardunia on 07 Jul 2012 at 03:15 GMT

There is definitely more to genetics than punnet squares. Genetics is a complicated interactive system, but the principles of Mendelian inheritance, linkage, mutation, and expression from DNA-RNA-protein-organism are still the basis for most of what we do. Yes, it is not that simple most of the time. Yes, most traits don't fit the clear segregation and phenotypic classes that Mendel discovered, but they are still true.

As physics has grown beyond the simple math and descriptions I learned in physics 101, so has biology grown beyond Mendel. But I don't think we should throw it out or make first year students try to understand histone modification and RNAi before they learn about independent assortment and cross-overs.

No competing interests declared.

RE: Should physics abandon Newton?

bgardunia replied to bgardunia on 07 Jul 2012 at 03:27 GMT

I did hate that physics class though.

I fell in love with classical genetics as an undergrad and the complexities underneath what seemed like a simple system 14 years ago with pea color. As I think about your proposed syllabus, I think it would be an interesting class. How do you balance the complexity of the mechanisms of expression and inheritance with the preparation of the students and the timelines of the course? It would be a challenge.

I read once about how Barbara McClintock taught cytogenetics at Univ. of Missouri as a complete experimental course. She gave each student "unknown" corn plants with different mutations, rearrangements, transposon, etc. And then built the lectures around how to work out the puzzles of each. I have often wondered if we should do more teaching like that in biology or statistics.

No competing interests declared.

the 'coverage' metric

djlee replied to bgardunia on 08 Jul 2012 at 17:11 GMT

How often do university teachers use topic coverage to measure the quality of the course?

Your post emphasizes to me the importance of giving up coverage to allow your students the opportunity to work and think like geneticists. I liked the fact that the author advocates being willing to give up coverage. That must be coupled with learning outcome guides that reflect priorities. We cannot settle for lists of topics.

No competing interests declared.

RE: RE: Should physics abandon Newton?

redfield replied to bgardunia on 08 Jul 2012 at 17:37 GMT

What would be the modern equivalent to McClintock's corn 'unknowns'? Maybe SNPs in protein-coding genes?

No competing interests declared.

RE: RE: Should physics abandon Newton?

jedsrose replied to bgardunia on 12 Jul 2012 at 20:55 GMT

Excellent post!

No competing interests declared.