Curricula

mtDNA PCR: What does Genetics tell us about Race and Ancestry?

This lesson introduces students to fundamental molecular biology tools, PCR and DNA sequence analysis, which can help us understand human ancestry and genetics. Furthermore, it provides a unique opportunity to examine scientific evidence that discredits the notion of distinct biological races within the human species. During the lab, students extract DNA from their cheek cells, perform PCR on the HVR1 region of their mitochondrial DNA, and submit the samples to BABEC for sequencing. Students then identify their haplogroup using SnapGene software and the MitoMap online database, which gives them insight into their deep maternal ancestry. Lastly, they use multiple pieces of evidence from the lesson resources and lab results to construct an explanation for the question: Does your DNA tell you your race, ancestry, or both?

In our online version of the lesson, students analyze PCR samples matched with the self-identified race/ethnicity of a group of anonymous individuals. They also engage with a POV video of a student performing the steps of the lab and labeled pictures of all the lab equipment involved.

Learning Objectives

  • Perform DNA extraction, PCR, and DNA sequence analysis to determine your own mtDNA haplogroup*
  • Describe mtDNA and the features that make it a useful tool for studying ancestry
  • Compare and contrast the concepts of “race” and “ancestry” and construct an explanation for the following question: Does your DNA tell you your race, ancestry, or both?

Prior Knowledge

  • Structure and function of DNA
  • Role of mitochondria in the cell
  • Experience with DNA extraction, micropipetting and gel electrophoresis

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Disciplinary Core Ideas:

LS3-A Inheritance of Traits<
“…some segments of DNA are involved in regulatory or structural functions…”

LS3-B Variation of Traits
“…errors do occur [in DNA replication] and result in mutations, which are also a source of genetic variation…and viable mutations are inherited.”

Science and Engineering Practices:

Analyzing and Interpreting Data
Constructing Explanations

Students explain the role of genetics in determining someone’s race and ancestry using mtDNA haplotype data from analyzing their own DNA sequences and gathering information from outside sources.

Crosscutting Concepts:

Patterns
Cause and Effect

Students explore the relationship between someone’s DNA and their race and ancestry.

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Amanda Cherry
Paradise Valley HS
Phoenix, AZ

The curriculum materials are beautifully prepared and easy to understand-thanks for preparing such great resources that are easy to use.

Byron Gougoumis
Burton HS
San Francisco, CA

All Babec labs are well organised and modelled effectively with clear, helpful procedural instructions, easily transposed to the classroom.

Gianne Souza
Lincoln HS
San Francisco, CA

The online resources are SO well done! The best I have ever had. Very little modification to make them clear and easy to follow. I have done two BABEC lessons and they are so well made that they made teaching online fun again.

Heather Johnson
Burlingame HS
Burlingame, CA

When doing the BABEC labs I consistently hear students say they feel like "real scientists."

Marianne Gudmundsson
Glenbrook South HS
Glenview, IL

Well organized and scaffolded; flexible structure and can be used partially or as a whole. This unit can be used as is...superbly written and thought out...incorporates many skills and allows student collaboration and student choice/voice.

Rocky Ng
South San Francisco HS
South San Francisco, CA

Thank you for creating these curriculum materials. I am beyond grateful for the quality lessons, on-the-point figures/videos, and easy-to-navigate biotechnology curriculum.

Thi Ngo
Capuchino HS
San Bruno, CA

The level of support really made the whole process easier and encouraged me to continue incorporating biotech into my curriculum. Thank you for the live assistance during the labs and for responding to inquiries so promptly and with such urgency.

Anonymous Teacher

Really well thought out curricula. Great to see "old" activities that have been re-imagined with lots of consideration to NGSS.

Anonymous Teacher

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Anonymous Teacher

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Anonymous Teacher

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