Re teaching genetics to undergrad non-scientists

moynihan at moynihan at
Sat Sep 4 09:27:36 EST 1993

A simple inexpensive tool I have found useful for demonstrating chromosome
reproduction and distribution in mitosis and meiosis is a couple packs
of ordinary playing cards.

In particular, if you use one suit to represent each haploid genome, with
one value representing each chromosome, you can get generate visual 
representations that show that each parent contributes half, but that each
grandparent, while averaging half, contributes a variable number of chromosomes
to a particular individual, and so on.  Because people are familiar with 
playing cards they seem to have an easier time keeping track of the labels.
Still, I find it advisable to start with a small number of chromosome pairs,
and then increase the complexity.  Many of my students appear to be paralyzed
by computations, but with simple examples the numbers of combinations can be 
tabulated.  Then you can point out the pattern of increase, and then calculate
the staggering number number of possible outcomes for heterozygous individuals
with n = 23.

Given enough playing cards, a class can work out simple examples in small 
groups.  If you want to show patterns of cards to larger groups of students,
try a tack-note type of glue stick (I don't have mine in front of me, and I
have forgotten the manufacturer, but it works like the the 3M post-it adhesive)
and stick the cards on the wall.  If you want to take things farther you can
cut and past cards to make "mutants" or "recombinant" cards.

Have fun.

M. Moynihan

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