Concepts


  • Therapeutic Uses of Stem Cells

    In this interactive activity adapted from the HHMI Outreach Program at Harvard University, learn about the ways in which stem cells can be used to treat and help cure diseases in humans. The activity explains what stem cells are and how they're produced, and provides details on their existing or potential therapeutic role in diseases related to the pancreas, liver, lungs, and bone marrow.

    Grades: 8-12
  • NOVA scienceNOW | Genetically Engineering the Avian Flu

    Examine the threat of a virus being spread from birds to humans, and then from humans to humans, in this video segment adapted from NOVA scienceNOW. It details the mechanisms viruses use to infect cells, and explores how mutations in a virus may change its virulence and how it can spread. It also looks at work being done with a re-created flu virus—from the deadly 1918 strain—that may help prevent future flu pandemics.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Epigenetics

    In this video segment adapted from NOVA scienceNOW, learn about the epigenome, a set of chemical switches that interact with DNA and affect how some genes are expressed. The epigenome tells cells what they will be and how they will function. Researchers in the field of epigenetics are studying mice as well as humans to determine how gene expression is affected by environmental factors and lifestyle choices. What they've learned is helping them explain differences that can appear over time in identical twins, and more broadly, in the general population.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • NOVA scienceNOW | Killer Microbe

    Learn how one species of bacteria, which is harmless to most people, has evolved to become deadly to others in this video from NOVA scienceNOW. The bacterium, known as Acinetobacter baumannii in medical science, and as "Iraqibacter" to soldiers both in and returning from Iraq, has developed resistance to even the strongest of antibiotics. Iraqibacter's genome reveals that much of its resistance has been acquired from other bacteria species through a process known as horizontal gene transfer. The video also examines how scientists may be able to prevent the bacteria from infecting humans.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Personal DNA Testing

    In this video from NOVA scienceNOW, take a behind-the-scenes look at the process of personal DNA testing, and hear more about the innovative Personal Genome Project.
    Grades: 9-12
  • Animal Cloning 101

    In this interactive activity from the Dolan DNA Learning Center, learn about what clones are, the technique that makes cloning of organisms possible, and some animals that scientists have successfully cloned over the years. The activity explains why identical twins fit the definition of clones, details the different methods used to create the first cloned sheep and mice, and explains how cloned animals may one day be used to resolve human health issues.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Engineering Biofuels

    This video segment adapted from KQED's QUEST profiles the work of Jay Keasling, a synthetic biologist experimenting with ways to produce a cleaner-burning fuel from biological matter, using genetically modified microorganisms. Keasling's approach involves engineering microbes to eat simple sugars found in plant matter and then excrete fuel. The video explains the two techniques that may enable Keasling to accomplish this: metabolic engineering and directed evolution. It also suggests that creating biofuels from plants may actually contribute to global warming rather than help combat it.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Career Profile: Synthetic Biologist Karmella Haynes

    This video produced by WGBH profiles Karmella Haynes, a post-doctoral researcher working in the emerging field of synthetic biology. Karmella explains how she uses biotechnology to build living machines, or devices, from genes. She then puts these devices into the cells of living things and studies the results. Haynes hopes that one day the devices she's working on will carry out complicated functions in human bodies, such as curing a disease. The video demonstrates how Karmella is using synthetic biology to detect cancer cells before they spread.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Gene Cloning

    In this interactive activity adapted from the University of Nebraska's Library of Crop Technologies, learn how genes are cloned, or copied from one organism to another, using a multistep process that involves restriction enzymes and plasmids. The activity shows one bacterial cell "transforming" others with the addition of its DNA. The process naturally confers antibiotic resistance to the transformed bacteria, which in turn helps scientists isolate transformed bacteria from those that have not been transformed.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction

    In this interactive activity adapted from the University of Nebraska's Library of Crop Technologies, learn the basic steps of polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique used to produce short sections of DNA for analysis. In this technique, various components are combined in a microfuge tube and heated in a thermal cycler. The activity details the process, which results in thousands of identical copies of a DNA fragment. Note: The activity provides a simulation of the process. The characterizations of depicted components and their behaviors should not be taken literally.

    Grades: 9-12
  • DNA Sequencing

    In this interactive activity adapted from the Dolan DNA Learning Center, examine the techniques geneticists use to read a sequence of DNA fragments. Sequencing enables scientists to analyze DNA and ultimately piece together the genomes of living organisms. The activity features Fred Sanger's original sequencing method, developed in 1977, and an automated version of Sanger's method that uses computers to read and interpret data. This newer technique provides a faster and more reliable means of sequencing.

    Grades: 9-12
  • DNA Extraction

    In this interactive activity adapted from the University of Nebraska's Plant and Soil Science eLibrary, learn how DNA is extracted from leaf tissue for molecular techniques, such as PCR. As the animated sequence shows, DNA extraction involves collecting cells, physically breaking them open to release DNA from the nuclei, separating the DNA from other cellular components, and precipitating DNA out of solution for final extraction. The process utilizes basic laboratory tools, such as microfuge tubes, pipettes, and a centrifuge. Other items used in purifying DNA include buffer solution, a solvent such as chloroform, and ethanol.
    Grades: 9-12
  • DNA Libraries

    In this interactive resource adapted from the Dolan DNA Learning Center, learn about DNA libraries, the tools scientists use to store and reproduce genetic information that they can later access for their research. The interactive resource features five different types of DNA libraries. Each gets its name from the type of molecule or organism used to host DNA segments of varying lengths.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Some Genes Are Dominant

    Using several animated sequences, this interactive activity adapted from the Dolan DNA Learning Center demonstrates the principle of dominance, which is fundamental to modern genetics. By crossing two pea plants, each pure-bred for a given trait like pea color, we learn why only the dominant trait—in this case, yellow pea color—appears in any and all offspring. We also learn why some offspring in subsequent generations exhibit the recessive trait—green—even though this may not have been apparent in the previous generation.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Mendel's Laws of Genetic Inheritance

    This interactive activity, adapted from the Dolan DNA Learning Center, illustrates how a tool developed by scientist Reginald Punnett—the Punnett square—validates Gregor Mendel's laws of genetic inheritance. Watch how the Punnett square can be used to display the possible genetic outcomes when two yellow-seed hybrid pea plants are crossed. The results clearly illustrate Mendel's principle of dominance and why the potential offspring traits appear with a predictable 3-to-1 dominant-to-recessive frequency.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Manufacturing Medicine | QUEST

    This video segment adapted from KQED's QUEST series discusses how scientists are using synthetic biology to quickly, and inexpensively, manufacture artemisinic acid, a precursor to the drug artemisinin, which treats malaria. Jay Keasling and Jack Newman describe how the genes that produce artemisinin in the wormwood plant were originally identified and then transferred to yeast, a process that can yield artemisinic acid in as little as 14 days. The video also discusses other potential applications of synthetic biology.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Structure of DNA

    In this animation adapted from Garland Science Publishing, a detailed look at DNA reveals the structural features that make up the famed double-helix molecule. The animation shows how the ladder-shaped DNA is constructed from chemical building blocks, including phosphates, sugars, and bases, held together by different kinds of chemical bonds. The narration further explains how the overall structure determines the charge and stability of the molecule, and how structure predicts key cellular functions of replication and transcription.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Transforming Bacteria

    In this animation produced by WGBH and Digizyme, Inc., learn about bacterial transformation, the process by which DNA plasmids are introduced into a bacterial cell's genome. The animation presents the physical challenges of getting the plasmids through the cell's plasma membrane and the "heat shock" technique used to overcome them. It also shows how researchers test for successful transformations using experimental and negative control plates. This resource is part of the Biotechnology collection.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Growing Bacterial Cultures

    In this animation produced by WGBH and Digizyme, Inc., learn how researchers expand a population of transformed bacterial cells using solid and liquid culture media. The animation explains the role of ampicillin (an antibiotic) and arabinose (a sugar), which are used for selection in the growth media. It also demonstrates how the transformed bacteria are separated from nontransformed bacteria.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Protein Purification

    In this animation produced by WGBH and Digizyme, Inc., we learn how protein purification separates and isolates a protein of interest from other contents of transformed bacterial cells that have undergone lysis. The animation explains the steps involved in a technique called hydrophobic interaction chromatography (HIC), which ultimately yields a solution that is highly enriched with the protein of interest.

    Grades: 9-13+

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