Chimpanzee Droppings Lead Scientists to Evolutionary Discovery

By Kosal, Erica F. | Journal of College Science Teaching, March-April 2009 | Go to article overview

Chimpanzee Droppings Lead Scientists to Evolutionary Discovery


Kosal, Erica F., Journal of College Science Teaching


Case teaching notes

Introduction/background

This case study explores the evolution of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) from SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) and how scientists approach problems. The goal is for students to get a sense of how questions are formulated and methods are employed in the field, to understand the contribution of basic and applied science toward fostering our understanding of the natural world, and to explore a case on viral evolution.

This case study would be appropriate for an introductory biology course made up of nonmajors, majors, or a combination. Depending on the class composition, one can elaborate or explore more fully the following topics: microevolution, selective agents, HIV versus AIDS, antibodies, the immune system, and/or how cells work. Prior to using this case study, students should have a basic understanding of DNA, RNA, genetic variation, and how viruses reproduce.

It would be helpful to know what antibodies and antigens are and how they are related to one another.

Objectives

Upon completion of the case, students should

* understand the difference between basic and applied science and realize the significance each contributes towards the field of science,

* get a sense of the kinds of studies and types of data that can be gathered in the field and gain practice with posing questions and hypotheses,

* understand how HIV could have evolved from SIV,

* understand that there are alternative hypotheses on the evolution of HIV, but that the most widely accepted hypothesis stems from the zoonosis of SIV to humans and the subsequent evolution into HIV,

* be familiar with how HIV is detected in humans, and

* understand how to correlate genetic sequences to relationship between samples.

Classroom management

This is an interrupted case study. Individual parts are given to students in a progressive, or interrupted, fashion that allows for ample class discussion over two or more class periods. For a 50- to 60-minute class period, I typically break up the class into small groups (of three or four students) and give each group Part I. After asking a volunteer from the class to read the section out loud, I give the groups five minutes to discuss Question 1. We then come back together as a class and discuss students' thoughts, generating a written list on the board and discussing appropriate research questions. The groups then get back together to work on the remaining questions (this typically takes about 15 to 20 minutes).

I then pass out Part II, ask a volunteer to read it out loud, and allow groups time to work on this section's questions. We come back together as a class to try to address some of these questions, but at this point, a 50- to 60-minute class is usually out of time. I typically have students finish the questions from this section as homework if they didn't have enough time in class.

We start the next class period by discussing the questions we didn't finish the period before and then continue with Part III (using the same structure --volunteers read, groups answer questions, class comes back together to discuss the questions as a whole).

Alternatively, you could give Part III as homework so that students potentially have more time to reflect individually on this final section. When giving Part III as homework, I devote at least part of the second class to discussing what students learned.

More detailed teaching notes are posted on the website of the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science at http://ublib.buffalo.edu/ libraries/projects/cases/case.html.

Part I

Far in the remote western African jungles of Cameroon, Dr. Beatrice Hahn and her team of scientists from the University of Alabama have been examining chimpanzee droppings. Members of the great ape family, chimpanzees typically travel in groups of 40 to 60 animals. …

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