This investigative case module was prepared as part of a BioQUEST faculty development workshop. 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: How Now Mad Cow?

My mother and I were driving to a nursery for Mother’s Day when I asked her for a breathmint. She offered me some gum, but said, “I don’t have any breathmints after the scare.”

I said, “Oh give me a break! What scare?”

She said, “Well, I read on the Internet that you can get Mad Cow Disease from breathmints. After all, some of them are made in Great Britain and they do have gelatin in them.”


Case Author:
Stacey Kiser Lane Community College

Case Analysis

  • What is this case about?
  • What causes Mad Cow Disease (in cows, in humans, others)?
  • Can I get it from breathmints?
  • How can we prevent the spread of the disease agent?
  • How will you proceed to find the answers to your questions

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 structure and function of a protein.
  • Understand what alters a protein’s structure/function.
  • Conduct a risk assessment outline for eating breathmints.



Investigations and Activities

  • Case provides motivation to talk about chemistry once you know that prions are suspected in BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopothy).
    • Molecular model kit activity building common molecules and answering questions.
    • Identify major amino acid groupings based upon chemistry.

Goal 2: Changes in protein structure/function

  • Gelatin in breathmints provides a common example of a protein that may be altered (besides my traditional enzyme labs)
    • Conduct investigative laboratory with protein structure (egg whites or gelatin?) and observe denaturation (with pH, temperature, enzymes)

Goal 3: Risk Assessment of Breathmints

  • Now students are really motivated to understand BSE, gelatin, and their personal risk when eating breathmints.
    • Discuss and write a qualitative risk assessment




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

Special Data Items

1. hownow4.jpg
2. hownow3.jpg
3. hownow5.gif
4. hownow.jpg


Student Products

Assessment and Evaluation Plan

Quantitative Assessment - Students

Completion of Molecule handout and follow-up quiz. (20%)

Completion of protein structure lab and follow-up quiz. (30%)

Completion of risk assessment handout. (30%)

Group presentation of risk assessment research. (20%)

Qualitative Assessment - Instructor

Monitor individual student understanding of molecular structure during modeling exercises.

Monitor lab group understanding of protein structure and function during lab.

Probe for understanding of research and unbiased risk assessment during risk assessment research phase.

Grade group presentations for accuracy and scientific approach to risk assessment.



Course name:
General Biology
Likely sequence in syllabus:
Before introduction of Proteins
Time during term:
Introduce case in lecture, follow up in lab later
Classroom and Lab
Students in course:
Majors and Non-majors
Collaborative elements:
Group work, presentation
Additional notes:
Help, field testing, and comments welcome!



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