Friday, January 10, 2014

A DNA evolution game for university students?

Some of the articles that are published in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education (BAMBED) are a little bit difficult to understand. Here's one from the latest issue....
Laura Miralles, Paloma Moran, Eduardo Dopico and Eva Garcia-Vazquez (2013) DNA Re-EvolutioN: A game for learning molecular genetics and evolution. BAMBED 41:396-401 [doi: 10.1002/bmb.20734]
The abstract explains that the goal is to teach evolution.
Evolution is a main concept in biology, but not many students understand how it works. In this article we introduce the game DNA Re-EvolutioN as an active learning tool that uses genetic concepts (DNA structure, transcription and translation, mutations, natural selection, etc.) as playing rules. Students will learn about molecular evolution while playing a game that mixes up theory and entertainment. The game can be easily adapted to different educational levels. The main goal of this play is to arrive at the end of the game with the longest protein. Students play with pawns and dices, a board containing hypothetical events (mutations, selection) that happen to molecules, “Evolution cards” with indications for DNA mutations, prototypes of a DNA and a mRNA chain with colored “nucleotides” (plasticine balls), and small pieces simulating t-RNA with aminoacids that will serve to construct a “protein” based on the DNA chain. Students will understand how changes in DNA affect the final protein product and may be subjected to positive or negative selection, using a didactic tool funnier than classical theory lectures and easier than molecular laboratory experiments: a flexible and feasible game to learn and enjoy molecular evolution at no-cost. The game was tested by majors and non-majors in genetics from 13 different countries and evaluated with pre- and post-tests obtaining very positive results.
I would be embarrassed to present this game to students at the University of Toronto. It seems more suitable for adolescents who are just learning about evolution in high school.

What do you think? Is this a suitable class experience for students at your university?


17 comments :

  1. You're obviously jealous of your relative Paloma.
    I could see letting university students know about this game but not spending class time on it. It'd probably be good for pre-high school students to spend class time on it (presuming it actually does what it describes).
    Bring it to your next molecular biology conference. Give out extra points every time junk dna is "disproven" or the "central dogma" is violated.

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    1. "Give out extra points every time junk dna is "disproven" or the "central dogma" is violated."

      I just laughed out loud reading that. Looks like it would be a great game for high school biology classes. Gives a solid understanding of what is actually happening on an organismal level and that is crucial for proper interpretation of population level processes. But Larry please tell your relative Paloma to get rid of the comic sans! Almost any other font would be better.

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    2. It could be turned into a drinking game! That would surely make it a hit on college campuses.

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  2. I think it is very good to introduce and further illustrate certain concepts to students. High school level would be good. Surprisingly, many people do not -including myself -understand a lot of evolution because it is so complex and multifaceted in various fields -fossils, biology, etc...anything that aides in understanding would be great to help educate the general public who won't major in evolution or the sciences at university level.

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  3. I do have a basic question- Why/how did we evolve to have little hair. Is it because primates with less flees survived longer? But then I would think other primates would have less hair. Or is it because as our intellect evolved, we built communities which guarded us from the jungles and hair became less needed? or is there something else? Are there theories on this?

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    1. I don't know why humans have less hair than other primates. It could be an accident, or lack of hair may have been positively selected, or it may be detrimental, or it may be a by-product of something else that was selected (e.g. neoteny).

      I don't really care what the answer is but I do care if some scientists pretend that they know the answer.

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  4. Another question- Genetic Drift to me seems like a 'negative' mechanism (genes decreasing or becoming no-extint) whereas natural selection seems to be more of a 'positive' one (reproduction). Is this true or how do scientists view this?

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    1. Some alleles are fixed by random genetic drift and some alleles are lost due to natural selection. The distinction between "positive" and "negative" only applies to selection and for every allele fixed by positive selection there is one lost by negative selection so they balance out.

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    2. Ok, I get the natural selection - losses and reproductions.

      Clarify Genetic Drift then please with an example of an allele fixed and then lost?

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    3. Laurence- If you can clarify this with an example for me to understand, thanks.
      Some alleles are fixed by random genetic drift and some alleles are lost due to natural selection.

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    4. Thanks for the reference. Lots of good info. I always said 'luck' seemed to play a major role to me in my simple understanding of evolution. I guess the official term is genetic drift.

      I understand how an accident might kill off much of a population and thus yield a population with less variation and thus more homozygous…

      But how does Genetic Drift cause a population to become homozygous simply because parents don't pass down all there alleles in kids. How does an isolated group become all "A" while another all "a". It seems like natural selection would play a role in choosing the common and therefore it would all become homozygous.

      How does chance or accident actually do that in that case?

      I also have another question- the sentence in the article:
      Since the only way for neutral mutations to become fixed in a population is through random genetic drift...

      What about a small tribe in India who honors the man with an extra thumb. The thumb doesn't do anything to help, but doesn't really get in the way either. It is neutral? But woman prefer this quality since it is revered. So, this mutation stays in the tribe because of natural selection -choosing. ?

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  5. How about an evolution church? Europe is ahead of you. They have churches for people like you to fulfill the need of belonging that has evolved from the a need of peeing.

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  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eHZRluWUoU

    A video by Ken Miller which helps people understand evolution better.

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  7. I think that they published this to show university professors that there is another way to present how DNA works. High schools and middle schools have been teaching this way for awhile. The writers of this article are probably hoping that university professors would be able to teach this way and then ask questions at a high level of thinking. Because by simply presenting information to be memorized is not how science is done.

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