HHMI Educator Tips | Lactose Intolerance and Genetics


Using human examples of genetic inheritance
is a great way to engage students in learning scientific concepts. In my freshmen and AP
Biology classes, I use the ‘Pedigrees and the Inheritance of Lactose Intolerance’
activity and the short film “Got Lactase?” to teach Mendelian and molecular genetics,
as well as human evolution. I start the lesson by showing the film to
introduce the idea that the human lactase gene typically becomes inactivated during
childhood, and that lactase persistence was only selected for in a few cultures. They
are surprised to learn that, worldwide, most adults are lactose intolerant. My students then work in pairs to complete
the pedigrees in the activity. They make claims about the inheritance of lactose intolerance,
supported by evidence from the pedigrees, all of which are from a study featured in
the short film. They are excited to tie their learning to actual scientific data. In the second part of the activity students
examine actual DNA sequence data to find the mutation that causes lactose intolerance.
This is a great review of mutations, and enables students to apply what they know in a new
way. The “Got Lactase” short film and related
activities show my students how scientists actually examine human adaptations for inheritance
patterns and the outcomes of mutations.

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