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Biology Undergraduates’ Misconceptions about Genetic Drift

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      Abstract

      This study explores biology undergraduates’ misconceptions about genetic drift. We use qualitative and quantitative methods to describe students’ definitions, identify common misconceptions, and examine differences before and after instruction on genetic drift. We identify and describe five overarching categories that include 16 distinct misconceptions about genetic drift. The accuracy of students’ conceptions ranges considerably, from responses indicating only superficial, if any, knowledge of any aspect of evolution to responses indicating knowledge of genetic drift but confusion about the nuances of genetic drift. After instruction, a significantly greater number of responses indicate some knowledge of genetic drift ( p = 0.005), but 74.6% of responses still contain at least one misconception. We conclude by presenting a framework that organizes how students’ conceptions of genetic drift change with instruction. We also articulate three hypotheses regarding undergraduates’ conceptions of evolution in general and genetic drift in particular. We propose that: 1) students begin with undeveloped conceptions of evolution that do not recognize different mechanisms of change; 2) students develop more complex, but still inaccurate, conceptual frameworks that reflect experience with vocabulary but still lack deep understanding; and 3) some new misconceptions about genetic drift emerge as students comprehend more about evolution.

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      Stochastic protein expression in individual cells at the single molecule level.

      In a living cell, gene expression--the transcription of DNA to messenger RNA followed by translation to protein--occurs stochastically, as a consequence of the low copy number of DNA and mRNA molecules involved. These stochastic events of protein production are difficult to observe directly with measurements on large ensembles of cells owing to lack of synchronization among cells. Measurements so far on single cells lack the sensitivity to resolve individual events of protein production. Here we demonstrate a microfluidic-based assay that allows real-time observation of the expression of beta-galactosidase in living Escherichia coli cells with single molecule sensitivity. We observe that protein production occurs in bursts, with the number of molecules per burst following an exponential distribution. We show that the two key parameters of protein expression--the burst size and frequency--can be either determined directly from real-time monitoring of protein production or extracted from a measurement of the steady-state copy number distribution in a population of cells. Application of this assay to probe gene expression in individual budding yeast and mouse embryonic stem cells demonstrates its generality. Many important proteins are expressed at low levels, and are thus inaccessible by current genomic and proteomic techniques. This microfluidic single cell assay opens up possibilities for system-wide characterization of the expression of these low copy number proteins.
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        Quantitative inquiry and research design: choosing among five approaches

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          Qualitative researcher and evaluation methods

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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            *Department of Ecology, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59717
            §Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington, Bothell, WA 98011
            BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824
            Department of Geological Science, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824
            #University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley, CA 94720
            @Department of Biology, University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, La Crosse, WI 54601
            **Department of Biological Sciences, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14260
            ‡‡Division of Education, Alfred University, Alfred, NY 14802
            §§Department of Plant Biology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602
            Author notes
            Address correspondence to: Paula P. Lemons ( plemons@ 123456uga.edu ).
            Contributors
            Role: Monitoring Editor
            Journal
            CBE Life Sci Educ
            CBE Life Sci Educ
            CBE-LSE
            CBE-LSE
            CBE-LSE
            CBE Life Sciences Education
            American Society for Cell Biology
            1931-7913
            Fall 2012
            : 11
            : 3
            : 248-259
            22949422 3433298 CBE-11-12-0107 10.1187/cbe.11-12-0107
            © 2012 T. M. Andrews et al. CBE—Life Sciences Education © 2012 The American Society for Cell Biology. This article is distributed by The American Society for Cell Biology under license from the author(s). It is available to the public under an Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0).

            “ASCB®” and “The American Society for Cell Biology®” are registered trademarks of The American Society of Cell Biology.

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            September 4, 2012

            Education

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