Kingdoms Entangled:

Molecules, Malaria,
and Maize

Using BioQUEST Library Modules

in an Investigative Case Study

Synopsis of the case:

The US corn crop has failed due to a rampant and virulent fungal pathogen. To help work on this problem, plant science graduate students Maria and Derrick travel to Mexico and Guatamala to gather specimens and data on a wild type of corn, teosinte, as well as some archaeological data. While there, each falls ill. Maria, pregnant and suffering from diarrheal dehydration learns that she carries the sickle cell gene. Derrick contracts malaria. The case develops each of the three story lines in multiple parts. Instructors might choose to use one, some or all of the case parts.

Potential areas for study: genetics; ecology; microbiology; pathology; physiology; life cycles; host-pathogen relations; biochemistry in fungi, bacteria, plants and humans; population biology; evolution; genetic counseling; and research design. Archaeology, anthropology, agricultural economics, rural sociology and others are potential topics students may wish to explore.

Why do case-based learning?

Case based learning using real-world problems is a way to actively engage students in open-ended and self-directed learning. Cases have been extensively used in medical schools to teach the fundamental sciences by using the stories of real patients. Medical students learn their biology in an integrated way and in a clincal context like that in which they will practice. In designing cases for biology teaching, we are creating open-ended cases drawn from a broad range of applications of biology. Here we draw on farming, agribusiness, genetic counseling, medicine and disease control to lead students to explore concepts in ecology, genetics, physiology, microbiology, epidemiology, etc. Open-ended cases are needed to lead students beyond learning the facts of science and enable them to begin investigating biological phenomena.

Case-based approaches encourage problem posing, problem probing and peer persuasion. In addition, students learn biology in the context of realistic situations. They have practice using biological information to investigate and come to re solution on complex problems. In their lives they may never face the exact problems they study, however, they will have experienced using scientific knowledge and scientific thinking to work out reasonable solutions.

Instruction with cases can be organized in many ways, from pairs looking at minicases in a large lecture, to small groups studying a case for an extended period, to brief case discussions before and after laboratory experiences. Ideally, cases, lectures, labs and other instructional approaches would be well integrated within a course. One of the most important elements of the case-based approach, however, is that it be based on collaborative discussion and brainstorming of the case issues. In that way, students can identify what they already know and what they need to find out in order to understand the case and pose a problem to investigate. Their learning becomes problem-motivated and self-directed.

In case-based learning students draw on a wide range of resources. With this case there will be readings, references to world wide web sites and databases, hard copies of relevant data, and software tools for exploring some of the "entanglements" among the organisms in the case. The BioQUEST Library modules connect to the case in several places, some of those links are shown below. Other software that supports open-ended student-directed investigations will likely also be appropriate.

We invite you to give case-based learning a try. We invite you to send reviews, comments and criticisms of the case to the BioQUEST office. Feedback from instructors is essential in developing excellent materials. You can join a conversation about teaching with and designing cases. We'd love to hear from people already using cases in undergraduate and high school biology teaching (or in any of the other sciences or in interdisciplinary courses). You may also contact Margaret Waterman for more information on case-based learning.

Some potential links to The BioQUEST Library modules

  1. Derrick has malaria. His case is reported to
  the CDC and WHO disease registries, and he
  is asked if he would be willing to participate in
  some research. A research group exchanges
  email about mosquito prevalence (by species)
  and Plasmodium prevalence.

From this data, students might like to model possible relationships among the vectors and parasites in one or more regions. They might choose to use BIOTA for such modeling:

Or students may wish to model the teosinte population data from field collections in both Mexico and Guatemala:


2. Maria's family history is given during a genetics counseling interview. INHERIT can be used to create her pedigree from the information given:

3. While only hinted at in the case, students might want to investigate the sickle cell - malaria connection with Evolve in which one or more blood disorders may be modelled with malaria as the selection pressure.



4. Students might want to investigate
  genetic models like that of sickle cell trait
  withGenetics Construction Kit.

5. Students interested in DNA testing and forensics might want to use CASE-IT to investigate the DNA sequences in sickle cell and non sickle cell individuals:

6. The LATE BLIGHT program could be used to investigate factors involved in the spread of the fungal disease:



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