Learn.Genetics from the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah : http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/

Learn.Genetics from the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah


Gary E. Kaiser
The Community College of Baltimore
County Catonsville, Maryland, E-mail:
gkaiser@ccbcmd.edu .

This website from the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah contains a massive amount of information on genetics. After a “Tour of Basics” covering a simplistic summary of information about DNA, genes, chromosomes, proteins, etc., there are detailed explorations of transcription and translation, heredity and traits, and cells. Each topic page has links to other topic pages for review and for further information. There are also four virtual labs: DNA extraction, gel electrophoresis, PCR, and DNA microarrays. In addition to basic genetics, the site also has some segments on topics such as epigenetics, the science of addiction, genetic disorders, and pharmacogenomics. There are also useful links to other Internet sites, including one linking to a list of videos and images of actual cells.

A nice feature is that each of the major topic areas contains a number of interactive exercises. The exercise on “DNA to Protein” is especially well done, allowing the user to transcribe and translate a gene by typing in the correct bases for complementary base pairing of the RNA nucleotides with their complementary bases on the DNA; the program makes corrections if mistakes are made. You then locate the start codon in the mRNA sequence and drag the correct amino acid over to each codon from the universal genetic code illustration as the protein elongates. You can also build a DNA molecule by dragging the correct deoxyribonucleotide to its complementary base of the replicating DNA molecule, as well as make a karyotype by dragging a photograph of a chromosome from a pool to its matching partner. There is also a nice interactive “Cell Size and Scale” animation starting with a coffee bean and going all the way down to a carbon atom.

Another useful feature is the “Learn More” links under each topic, including “Prions: On the trail of killer proteins;” “Telomeres;” “How do scientists read chromosomes;” “Directing traffic: How vesicles transport cargo;” and “When cell communication goes wrong.”

Several topics have print activities that could be used in a classroom. For example, in the one entitled “Traits Trivia,” cards showing pictures of individual genetic traits such as cleft chin, freckles, or attached earlobes, are cut out. Students stand in a group and are shown the cards one at a time. Students not shaving the trait sit down while those with the trait remain standing until only one person with a unique set of genetic traits is left standing.

There are a few minor concerns. There are so many links on each page that a student using the site may feel overwhelmed. If a teacher assigned certain specific segments, this could be easily overcome. The end of each animation under “The Basics” has a “Next” button that takes you back to the beginning of that animation, which can be a little confusing. The “DNA Extraction” virtual lab shows the micropipette with new and used tips being laid down on the lab benchtop and, after going through the interactive tutorial on DNA extraction, when you click on the “Try it Yourself” link, it basically takes you through the tutorial again. While repetition is good, it might be useful to have a student try the virtual DNA extraction without being told step-by-step what to do exactly as in the tutorial. With the “Gel Electrophoresis” virtual lab, I could not drag the black and red cords of the electrophoresis chamber to plug into the power supply and, as a result, was unable to proceed forward in the tutorial. And finally, while some viewers will find all the sound effects included in the virtual gel electrophoresis and DNA microarray labs cute, I personally found them much overused and annoying after awhile.

Other than these few minor points, I found this site to contain a wealth of genetic information, nicely done animations, and some quite useful interactive activities. This site would be of value to both high school and college instructors when teaching a genetics component of their courses.

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DOI: 10.1128/jmbe.v11i1.143
Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education , May 2010
Copyright © 2010 American Society for Microbiology . All Rights Reserved

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

ISSN: 1935-7885

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