Few subjects are more relevant to everyday life than biochemistry—although your students may not realize this fact until it is pointed out to them. Here are 10 topics from biochemistry that your students can relate to their everyday lives.
Probably all of your students will have heard of the concept of genetic engineering. Students tend to underestimate the power of genetic engineering, supposing it is science fiction, or overestimate the power of genetic engineering, supposing it can easily change conditions. But once your students have a chance to do some genetic engineering with a Modern Biology experiment, like inserting a gene into bacteria so they can glow in the dark (the bacteria, not your students), they will appreciate the power of this twenty-first century tool of modern biosciences.
Many of your students will have regular exposure to lawns and gardens. One of the things they will notice is that sick lawns and sick plants may turn yellow because they lack the magnesium and other cations that power photosynthesis. On a very simple level, photosynthesis keeps plants green.
But as they learn more about photosynthesis, your students will add a layer to their understanding of historical events, like the ash clouds that encircled the earth in the nineteenth century and the effects of volcanic eruptions on our own. At the very least, students will be more likely to become green thumbs in their gardens with this newfound knowledge.
Millions of Americans go on diets. Millions of American biology students go on diets. There is one thing that their weight-loss diets have in common. They almost never work, or at least don’t work very long.
One of the confounding factors in nearly every diet is the production of secondary metabolites by probiotic bacteria in the gut. Many of the bacteria we associate with gut health produce butyric acid as a secondary metabolite, effectively giving fiber the caloric content of ice cream. Understanding secondary metabolites can lead your students to questions they otherwise would never think of asking,
With Modern Biology Experiment IND-28: Synthetic Biology, your students will use bacterial computers to solve the pancake problem, giving “short stacks” and “tall stacks” of DNA segments directionality and assembling them in the right order. This experiment becomes a memorable example of how organisms can be redesigned for useful purposes by engineering them to have new abilities. Students who internalize the concept of synthetic biology will have an inherent appreciation for the possibilities of genetic engineering.
Coagulation is the process of making a colloid clumpy, either in whole or in part. Students see coagulation when they cook an egg, when gravy cools, or when their blood clots and stops bleeding from a cut. Students develop a “feel” for the fact that proteins have different structures at different temperatures, and an appreciation for the need to protect living organisms, including themselves, from extremes of temperature.
One experience for students is learning about the molecular structure of proteins by listening to a lecture in class. A very different experience for students is seeing the differences in molecular length and molecular weight of proteins in electrophoresis.
Modern Biology offers a complete suite of electrophoresis equipment, as well as experiment kits for teaching electrophoresis, such as plant pigment and peroxidase analysis, laboratory studies with amylase, identifying genomic and plasmid DNA sequences in E. coli, and application of a gene by PCR, among many others. With this background, students will understand other applications of PCR such as rapid testing for COVID-19 and at-home genetic testing.
Most teenagers and young adults in biology classes have a keen interest in beverages formed through the process of fermentation. Students rapidly acquire the concepts around the creation of alcohol from sugars.
Just as important or even more important to students, however, is the concept of anaerobic respiration, resulting in the formation of lactic acid in muscles. Students who gain a thorough understanding of respiration and fermentation more rapidly adapt to training programs designed to enhance strength and endurance.
In the English language, osmosis is a term applied to minds as well as to liquid systems. Many of your students may be counting on osmosis to be able to master the most difficult concepts of your courses. But with the structured curriculum provided by Modern Biology’s Basic Program 4, they will understand osmosis intuitively as it applies to plants.
Where do students encounter osmosis in everyday life? If they use water that has gone through a water softener, they have taken advantage of the principle of differential semipermeability. Some students will recognize the value of this principle in understanding desalination. A basic understanding of osmosis can inform choices made throughout life about choosing among technologies to obtain pure water.
Chromatography, both paper chromatography and HPLC, is another way to visualize the differences between biological molecules. In the Modern Biology laboratory exercise on the chromatographic separation of proteins, students will gain an intuitive understanding of how size matters in molecular biology, and see a way to use chromatography to purify proteins, as well as study them.
Students may be fascinated by the possibilities of printing human organs with a jet printer. But in Modern Biology’s IND-02: Tissue Printing, they will use tissue printing to identify and localize enzymes in living tissues. Students will gain hands-on experience in an important laboratory skill for their further study of cell biology and a new appreciation of the many applications of the technique.
All complex living organisms accumulate mutations, most of which are not passed on to progeny. In IND-06: Analysis of a Mutant Hemoglobin Gene, you students will analyze their own DNA for an important mutation and consider the social and medical consequences of relatively easy genetic testing.