Teaching an Online Introductory Biology Lab Using Cellular and Molecular Biology Resources

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This playlist can be used in an online, undergraduate (majors-level) introductory biology lab to incorporate core topics in cellular and molecular biology. Using case studies, multimedia, and interactive resources, it engages students in data analysis and critical thinking. The topics covered include the process of science, cellular energetics/photosynthesis, metabolism, meiosis and patterns of inheritance, and biotechnology. 

This playlist can be used to teach five 3-hour (180-minute) labs in a lab course for a total of 900 minutes of instruction over a semester.

Lab 1: Process of Science

By completing the resources in this lab (resources 1–3 in this playlist), students will be able to:

  • Compare and contrast questions that can be analyzed using the methods of science and those that are outside the scope of science.
  • Develop testable scientific questions.
  • Use data to propose hypotheses, make predictions, and justify claims with evidence.
  • Identify, evaluate, and predict the scientific questions that drove research, based on data or figures from the scientific literature.

Lab 2: Cellular Metabolism and Photosynthesis

By completing the resources in this lab (resources 4–6 in this playlist), students will be able to:

  • Summarize the overall purpose of photosynthesis, including the inputs and outputs of matter at various steps in the process.
  • Identify the structures that perform photosynthesis in plants. 
  • Summarize the main components of the light reactions and Calvin cycle, and how they contribute to photosynthesis.
  • Analyze and interpret data from a scientific figure. 
  • Explain and contrast the impact of environmental factors on the function of the electron transport chain.
  • Design a research protocol using the basic principles of experimental design.  

Lab 3: Macromolecules and the Digestion of Carbohydrates

By completing the resources in this lab (resources 7–8 in this playlist), students will be able to:

  • Analyze and interpret data from a scientific figure. 
  • Graph data and appropriately label all graph components, including title, axes, units, and legends.
  • Make claims based on scientific evidence and support those claims using scientific reasoning.
  • Discuss the role of enzymes in metabolism.

Lab 4: Mendelian Patterns of Inheritance and Understanding Sex and Gender

By completing the resources in this lab (resources 9–10 in this playlist), students will be able to:

  • Study a pedigree to make an evidence-based claim about the mode of inheritance of a trait.
  • Determine the most likely inheritance pattern of a trait tracked in a pedigree and the genotypes of individuals included in the pedigree.
  • Analyze variations in DNA to make claims about which variants are associated with specific traits.
  • Explain how biological sex and gender differ.
  • Summarize how mutations in a variety of genes can affect the development of internal and external sex characteristics.
  • Explain how characteristics associated with biological sex may affect athletic performance.

Lab 5: Biotechnology

By completing the resources in this lab (resources 11–14 in this playlist), students will be able to:

  • Describe how recombinant DNA technology is used to produce transgenic organisms.
  • Explain how transgenic organisms can be used to explore biological processes.
  • Explain how light production through a reporter gene is used as an external marker of internal molecular events.
  • Collect and analyze data, including graphs.
  • Apply knowledge of DNA structure, function, and base pairing to describe how CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to inactivate and edit genes.
  • Compare two different models of a biological process.
  • Explore different types of research projects that apply CRISPR-Cas9 technology.
Asking Scientific Questions
Topic
Ecology
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This activity is the first resource in Lab 1: Process of Science. It has students formulate and analyze scientific questions.

To use this resource as part of Lab 1:

  • Ask students to spend 5 minutes thinking about the range of variation in human skin color and writing questions that relate to the causes for this variation. 
  • Have students sort the questions into two categories: those that are answerable using the methods of science and those that are not. As they are sorting, students should list the criteria that they used to decide whether questions are scientific or not. 
  • If students need support for this activity, you may wish to post the “Characteristics of Questions” handout, which students can use to check their list of criteria before moving on. 
  • Have students complete resources 2 and 3 of this playlist, then return to this activity to complete Parts 2 and 3 of the “Student Handout.” Before Part 3, you will need to decide which set of journal article titles they will review. 
  • Finally, have students apply what they learned about scientific questions to the “Evidence for Selection” activity (resource 3 in this playlist). For each graph presented in that activity, ask students to write a scientific question that they think drove that research. Students can use their responses to write improved titles for the graphs.
The Biology of Skin Color
Topic
Genetics
Anatomy & Physiology
Evolution
Resource Type
Videos

This short film is the second resource in Lab 1: Process of Science. It explores the evidence that human skin color is an evolutionary adaptation.

To use this resource as part of Lab 1, present it as an interrupted case study using the suggested segments and questions in the “Human Skin Color: Evidence for Selection” activity (resource 3 in this playlist). Have students watch each segment of the film and answer the questions before moving on to the next segment.

Human Skin Color: Evidence for Selection
Topic
Anatomy & Physiology
Evolution
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This activity is the third resource in Lab 1: Process of Science. It has students use data to explore concepts presented in the short film The Biology of Skin Color (resource 2 in this playlist).

To use this resource as part of Lab 1, combine it with the film as follows:

  • Have students complete the questions at the pause points in the “Student Handout.”
  • For question 3, it is useful to pull up the most recent UV index data (or one data set for each semester) available from the European Space Agency.
  • Consider excluding questions 10 and 16 if evolution has not been covered in the course.
Photosynthesis
Topic
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Cell Biology
Anatomy & Physiology
Resource Type
Videos

This Click & Learn is the first resource in Lab 2: Cellular Metabolism and Photosynthesis. It is a multipart animation about the process of photosynthesis and the structures that carry it out.

To use this resource as part of Lab 2:

  • Before students do the Click & Learn, introduce them to the need for herbicides, which are commonly used in agriculture to kill weeds to increase crop yield. Explain that some herbicides kill plants by stopping photosynthesis (which does not harm animals).
  • As students do the Click & Learn, encourage them to think about an experiment that could test the effectiveness of a new herbicide that blocks an action necessary for photosynthesis. 
  • Ask students to complete the “Student Worksheet” for the Click & Learn. 
  • Pose the following questions: Which process in photosynthesis should a herbicide target? Why? How would they know if the herbicide was targeting this process? Which variables could they measure?
  • Reassure students that there is more than one correct answer for these questions and they should just do their best to apply reasoning and logic.
How Science Works
Topic
Science Practices
Resource Type
Interactive Media

This Click & Learn is the second resource in Lab 2: Cellular Metabolism and Photosynthesis. It helps students document, annotate, and reflect upon scientific research processes.

To use this resource as part of Lab 2:

  • Explain that herbicides work in a variety of ways, including inhibition of pigment (e.g., carotenoid) biosynthesis, inhibition of photosystem II electron transfer, and uncoupling of photosystem I electron transfer. If students would like to learn more about these mechanisms, they can research them in the next step. 
  • Have the students work in small groups to research the targets of different commercial brands of herbicides. 
  • Have each group ask a scientific question about the effectiveness of a selected herbicide, propose a hypothesis, design an experiment, and summarize expected results. 
  • Ask students to present their research and ideas using the How Science Works Click & Learn to provide guidance and structure in their presentation. 
  • Use your course learning outcomes to develop presentation guidelines and a rubric.
Salt Stress Impacts Photosynthesis in Algae
Topic
Anatomy & Physiology
Environmental Science
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This Data Point activity is the third resource in Lab 2: Cellular Metabolism and Photosynthesis. It has students analyze a published scientific figure from a study that investigated how salt affects the electron transport chain.

To use this resource as part of Lab 2:

  • Select discussion questions from the “Educator Materials” for students to address in a class discussion or in individual responses. 
  • Ask students to compare and contrast the herbicide mechanisms they previously explored to the example of photosynthesis inhibition described in this Data Point.
The Making of the Fittest: Got Lactase? The Co-evolution of Genes and Culture
Topic
Genetics
Anatomy & Physiology
Evolution
Resource Type
Videos

This short film is the first resource in Lab 3: Macromolecules and Digestion of Carbohydrates. It explores the genetics and evolution of lactase persistence in humans.

To use this resource as part of Lab 3:

  • Before they watch the film, ask students to write several sentences explaining how our bodies acquire energy from the food we eat. 
  • Have students watch the first 2 minutes of the film and then revise their explanation to include information about the role of enzymes in this process. They should mark their revisions in some way (different color, underline, etc.).
  • Next, have students finish the film and complete the questions in the activity “Blood Glucose Data Analysis” (resource 8 in this playlist). 
  • Have students survey whether their family members and peers are lactose tolerant/intolerant.
  • Ask students to analyze their survey data and create a lab report with their findings. In the conclusion, students should include a discussion of why their findings do or do not match the statement from the film that one-third of adults worldwide can digest lactose.
Blood Glucose Data Analysis
Topic
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This activity is the second resource in Lab 3: Macromolecules and Digestion of Carbohydrates. It has students infer whether someone is likely to be lactase persistent or nonpersistent based on the data from two different tests.

To use this resource as part of Lab 3:

  • Have students complete the “Student Handout” for this activity.
  • If teaching online, tell students to make their graphs electronically using graphing software such as Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel.
Pedigrees and the Inheritance of Lactose Intolerance
Topic
Genetics
Evolution
Resource Type
Activities

This activity is the first resource in Lab 4: Mendelian Patterns of Inheritance and Understanding Sex and Gender. It has students analyze pedigrees to understand the pattern of inheritance of lactose tolerance/intolerance.

To use this resource as part of Lab 4, have students complete the “Student Handout” for the activity.

Sex Verification Testing of Athletes
Topic
Anatomy & Physiology
Science Practices
Resource Type
Interactive Media

This Click & Learn is the second resource in Lab 4: Mendelian Patterns of Inheritance and Understanding Sex and Gender. In this resource, students explore the biology of sex determination and development in humans, set against the backdrop of the different sex testing policies implemented throughout sports history.

To use this resource as part of Lab 4:

  • Explain to the students that people often interchange the terms sex and gender. However, only sex has a biological basis — similar to lactose tolerance, which they explored in the previous activity. 
  • Have students complete the Click & Learn and associated “Student Handout.” 
  • Ask students to write a brief summary of their understanding of the terms sex and gender and how it relates to biology.

You can supplement the lab by having students research a genetic condition and create a presentation or poster about the condition.

Transgenic Fly Virtual Lab
Topic
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Anatomy & Physiology
Science Practices
Resource Type
Interactive Media

This virtual lab is the first resource in Lab 5: Biotechnology. It has students explore the techniques used to make transgenic flies and demonstrate how these flies can be used to study gene expression.

To use this resource as part of Lab 5, have students complete the virtual lab and its associated worksheet.

Building a Paper Model of CRISPR-Cas9
Topic
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Resource Type
Activities

This activity is the second resource in Lab 5: Biotechnology. It has students build a paper model to explore how CRISPR-Cas9 is used to edit genes.

To use this resource:

  • Have students build the paper model by completing Part 1 of the “Student Handout.” If students are unable to print the model sheets, suggest that they create an analogous model using readily available household materials. 

Have students complete the rest of the “Student Handout.” They should reference their model as they navigate through the CRISPR-Cas9 Mechanism & Applications Click & Learn (resource 13 in this playlist).

CRISPR-Cas9 Mechanism & Applications
Topic
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Genetics
Resource Type
Interactive Media

This Click & Learn is the third resource in Lab 5: Biotechnology. It has students explore how CRISPR-Cas9 technology works and the many ways in which scientists are using it in their research.

To use this resource as part of Lab 5, have students explore the Click & Learn while referencing the model they built in the previous activity.

Using CRISPR to Identify the Functions of Butterfly Genes
Topic
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Science Practices
Resource Type
Activities

This activity is the fourth resource in Lab 5: Biotechnology. It has students explore knocking out butterfly genes in order to determine their function.

To use this resource as part of Lab 5, have students complete the “Student Handout.”

You can supplement the lab by having students do any of the following:

  • Compare and contrast the recombinant DNA technology from the Transgenic Fly Virtual Lab (resource 11 in this playlist) with CRISPR-Cas9 technology.
  • Create an explanatory video of CRISPR-Cas9 using what they’ve learned from the previous resources. 
  • Create a position paper on the use of CRISPR-Cas9 that includes a scientific and ethical lens.