The goal of this lesson is to answer the question: Are pikas living at low elevations genetically different than those at high elevations? Students investigate this question in two ways, both commonly used by modern population geneticists. First, students investigate general gene flow in these populations by looking at the proportion of individuals that are heterozygous in a population. Second, they will look at single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data to identify DNA regions (loci) that may be undergoing natural selection and will use their creativity to guess possible functions of these genes. Finally, students will develop methods for testing their gene’s function and consider the ability of low elevation pikas to survive in the future.
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One of the things that I struggle with in class is finding real data that the students can use for real situations. I don't want to make up ideal data because it's not something that the students will ever see, science is messy and being able to identify correlations is important. This activity uses real data from research on an organism and the students increase their tech skillls as well as learn about the relationships between genetics and evolution in this hands-on activity.
This lesson requires a lot of background information though; knowledge such as the structure of DNA (because of the SNP's that are discussed), gene loci, simple one-trait Punnett squares, and heterozygotes are necessary. Their application in this activity is outstanding and really will demonstrate an understanding of the content, or lack thereof.
The directions are clear, but I think that the discussions that are being asked about should be supplemented with other examples so that students don't mistake this as a lesson about Pika and not about the big-picture-connection between allele frequency and evolution.
University of Colorado
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