Using Sickle Cell Anemia to Understand Gene Expression and Environmental Factors Influencing a Population’s Genetics

Using Sickle Cell as an Anchor in Understanding Genetics, Gene Expression, and Selection.

Make molecular biology and genetics come alive for students as they solve a genetic mystery and diagnose simulated patients. Could changing a single nucleotide impact a person’s life? If a mutation were harmful, it wouldn’t stay in a population, right? Can a genetic disease be cured? Exploring sickle cell anemia is a great way for students to investigate these big questions in a meaningful real-world context! Join us for a hands-on day of tried and true of activities: building models, analyzing data, and high-level labs skills to conduct a restriction-digest agarose gel electrophoresis. All activities are TEKS aligned and can be modified to work with budgets ranging from shoestring to superfluous! Participants will receive lesson plans/handouts, low-budget materials, and will have the opportunity to win door prizes.

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Part I: Who has sickle cell?

busch 2We will learn about the implications of having sickle cell anemia including symptoms, prognosis, and life span. Then we will examine global distributions of sickle cell anemia and look for trends in populations and overlapping data for temperature and malaria to discover the heterozygous


advantage. We will examine blood smear slides to look for the presence of sickled cells. High school students can use this data to engage in argument from evidence about natural selection, populations, and environmental factors.

Part II: How do you get sickle cell?

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In this section, we will discuss connecting sickle cell to Mendelian genetics, inheritance, central dogma (DNA à RNA à Proteins), protein synthesis, and genetic disorders. We will build model proteins with cheap but effective models and if time permits find the ABORh blood type of simulated samples.

Part III: How can we find carriers and what is the possibility of gene therapy?

Practice your pipetting as we run through the entire protocol for an agarose gel electrophoresis. Learn how to teach students to effectively pipette and load DNA samples in a gel. We’ll discuss how you can get lab-grade materials or how to make it work with much cheaper options. Explore restriction enzymes and how they can be used for biotechnology, including searching for a specific sequence. Students will diagnose “patients”. This activity can be extended to pedigrees as well.

Join us for a fun day of high-level laboratory experiences blended with concrete models and real-world problems and solutions!

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Katie Busch

Director, Alabama Hands On Activity Science Program

Katie Busch, Ed. S. is based out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Center for Community OutReach Development (CORD). CORD works in partnership with several departments in the University including the School of Medicine, School of Dentistry, and School of Public Health as well as with local school districts to develop and conduct high-level STEM enrichment programs for K-12 teachers and students. Ms. Busch is currently the director of the Alabama Hands On Activity Science Program (ALAHASP), which has been providing STEM professional development to Alabama teachers for over 20 years. Ms. Busch and ALAHASP are passionate about connecting educators with great high-level content and highly interactive STEM activities that help students develop scientific skills and foster a deep sense of inquiry.