This investigative case module was prepared as part of a BioQUEST faculty development workshop entitled NSF Chautauqua Short Course: Investigative Cases at Christian Brothers University in July 2004. The cases, resources, and implementation strategies were developed by participants for use with their own students. We invite you to adopt and adapt the following materials.

The BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium is committed to the reform of undergraduate biology instruction through an emphasis on engaging students in realistic scientific practices. This approach is sometimes characterized as an inquiry driven approach and is captured in BioQUEST's three P's (problem-posing, problem-solving, and peer-persuasion). As part of this workshop groups of faculty were encouraged to initiate innovative curricular projects. We are sharing these works in progress in the hope that they will stimulate further exploration, collaboration and development. Please see the following links for additional information:

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Investigative Cases
The Case: The Couple's Cholesterol

Case Narrative:

Jim and Ann have been married for five years and recently moved to Chicago to start their new jobs at an investment firm. Their employer requires an annual physical for all employees. When Jim and Ann met with their physician to discuss the results from their blood work, Jim was told that his cholesterol level was 125, which the physician said was a very healthy level.

Ann, however, was not given as good a report.

“Ann”, the doctor said, “Your cholesterol, which is 350, is something we need to be concerned about.”

“How could that be?” Jim said. “We both eat the same things, walk, and work out at the health club three times a week.”

“Ann, is there a history of heart disease in your family?” the doctor asked.

“I don’t know of any heart problems that my dad has." Ann replied. "My mom does not have any heart problems either,”

“What about their parents?” the doctor asked.

“Well, I never met my father’s parents,” she said. "My father came from Italy to go to graduate school and his parents died before I was born. My mom’s parents are in their eighties and seem to be in pretty good health for their ages. Besides, I’m very confused. Isn’t there good cholesterol and bad cholesterol?”

Case Author:
Denise Zielinski Wabash College

Case Analysis

Option: Include a know / need to know chart like the one below:

What do you know?
What do you need to know?

Learning Goals


  • Understand the physiological importance of elevated cholesterol levels
  • Distinguish between different types of cholesterol and recognize the function and physiological implications of different concentrations of each
  • Understand that a similar health condition may be caused by environmental as well as genetic factors
  • Understand what genes and alleles are
  • Understand the concepts of homozygosity and heterozygosity
  • Understand why genetic differences among populations exist
  • Recognize and understand why different populations may have different disease prevalences
  • Explore the biological basis of race or ethnicity



Investigations and Activities

  • Have each student identify 3 to 5 genetic conditions that result in hypercholesterolemia.
  • Compare nucleic acid sequences of identified mutants associated with hypercholesterolemia that will be provided(e.g. apolipoprotein E on chromosome 19 or autosomal recessive hypcholesterolemia on chromosome 1) to determine the number of base changes and the resulting effect on amino acid sequences that result in hypercholesterolemia.
  • Identify the relationship between amino acid sequence, protein structure, genotype and hypercholesterolemic phenotype (e.g. faulty LDL receptors or chylomicron clearance).
  • Identify individual phenotypes for a gene known to be associated with propensity to cardiac disease using PCR



Students will usually obtain additional references or resources
to help answer or explore their questions.

Special Data Items


Student Products

  • Group poster or contribution to brochure identifying some of the genetic causes of hypercholesterolemia.
  • Class poster identifying class genotypic and phenotypic ratios for Alu elements in TPA, as determined by PCR, and comparisons with other geographic populations.

Assessment and Evaluation Plan



Introduce case in lecture at the beginning of the human biology non-majors' course and establish individual investigation objectives.

During subsequent 3 weeks in lab with nominal use of lecture time, conduct sequence analysese and comparisons and PCR experiment.

Carry out poster presentations in lecture during the week following the completion of the PCR experiment.

Course name:
Human Biology
Likely sequence in syllabus:
Time during term:
3 weeks
Lecture, lab
Students in course:
Non-science Majors
Collaborative elements:
Group work, presentation
Additional notes:



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