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Vision and Change Teacher-Recommended Collection: Environmental Epigenetics

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Description Collection Description
This is a collection of resources for teaching the effects of environmental epigenetics on pregnancy as consistent with the teaching recommendations of the Vision & Change in Undergraduate Education document. The items in the collection are meant to be used sequentially to help students understand the generational implications of certain toxins on gene expression. The first three resources give students the conceptual background needed to understand simple principles of environmental toxicology. Resources 4 through 6 explain the principles of epigenetics. The last two resources allow students to explore embryology and can use the resource, the Visible Embryo, to explore the short-term and possible epigenetic effects of toxins on difference stages of a fetus.

How were the items in this collection used?
This collection was used to reinforce with critical thinking activities environmental epigenetics and the implications of hazardous chemicals on future generations through epigenetic mechanisms. The first resource provides examples of the information needed to understand the principles of toxicology. Two case studies are included in this collection for students to understand the benefits of risks of everyday substances that can have toxicological effects on adults and children. A background lesson epigenetics then links the toxicology information and case studies to the upcoming resources on embryology. The last two resources provide varying levels of detail about human embryology. These resources together can be used in a problem-based learning activity in which students must assess the possible short-term and long-term consequences of pregnant women being exposed to moderate amounts of a toxicological substance.

Who used this collection?
These resources can be used primarily in the undergraduate classroom for lessons on toxicology or epigenetics. It could also be used by high school teachers for advanced biology or environmental science students. The materials could also be useful in public education programs and in information education situations.

Which of the V&C Core Concepts does this collection address?
Evolution ('The diversity of life evolved over time by processes of mutation, selection, and genetic change.')
It shows how epigenetics may play as big a role in evolution as genetic mutation.

Information Flow, Exchange, and Storage ('The growth and behavior of organisms are activated through the expression of genetic information in context.')
This show how DNA can be altered in ways that the environment can modify gene expression without changes to the DNA sequence.

Systems ('Living systems are interconnected and interacting.')
This shows how organ system function can be modified from one generation to the next through epigenetic changes induced by diet, behavioral interactions, and environmental factors.

Which of the V&C Core Competencies and Disciplinary Practices does this collection address?
Ability to Apply the Process of Science ('Biology is evidence based and grounded in the formal practices of observation, experimentation, and hypothesis testing.')
The resources if used together encourage students to gather the background information needed to answer questions on the effects of environmental toxins on human health. Using the principles of epigenetics they can be asked to investigate how future generations can be affected by harmful factors that affected past generations.

Ability to Use Modeling and Simulation ('Biology focuses on the study of complex systems.')
The resources can be used to demonstrate how studies on mice can be used as models for humans and other organisms. Environmental epigenetics in particular can affect many organisms in an ecosystem in similar ways that impact future generations.

Ability to Tap into the Interdisciplinary Nature of Science ('Biology is an interdisciplinary science.')
Environmental epigenetics relies heavily on the interrelationships between biology, chemistry, and the environmental sciences.

Ability to Understand the Relationship between Science and Society ('Biology is conducted in a societal context.')
The information in the resources directly relates to science and society because it shows how epigenetics evidence can by used to set public health laws and environmental policies.

Please enter suggestions for colleagues.
The collection should be used in the following sequence: I. Is Fluoridation a No-Brainer? - http://www.apsarchive.org/resource.cfm?submissionID=7196 II. Toxic Baby Shampoo - http://www.apsarchive.org/resource.cfm?submissionID=7259 III. Learn Genetics Utah: Epigenetics -http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/epigenetics/ IV. Like Mother, Like Child – Inheritance - http://www.apsarchive.org/resource.cfm?submissionID=7282 V. NOVA – A Tale of Two Mice - http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/epigenetic-mice.html VI. DNA Wrap - http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/7828 VII. Visible Embryo - http://www.apsarchive.org/resource.cfm?submissionID=1098 VIII. Human Embryology Animations - http://www.apsarchive.org/resource.cfm?submissionID=5882 After the embryology coverage, students should be asked the role of epigenetics in understanding the impacts of chemical exposure to women at various stages of pregnancy. For example, how would epigenetic changes in a fetus vary in a 3 week fetus versus a 6 month fetus and could differences and could time of exposure of a pregnant women have different effects on the child.

Type of Resource Annotated Collection
Format Multiple Formats
Brian Shmaefsky, Lone Star College - Kingwood
Grade/Age Level Undergraduate lower division (Grades 13-14)
Learning Time 2-3 hours
Language English
Type of Review Reviewed by Partner Organization

Resources in Collection
Click on any teaching resource's title for detailed information.
Web Site Links
DNA Wrap
This website has curriculum materials on epigenetics linked to the NOVA program on epigenetics called A Tale of Two Mice. A classroom-ready presentation introduces epigenetics and links to the NOVA video. It then has a student worksheet that asks the students to critically think about epigenetics and it implications to humans.
Learn.Genetics: Epigenetics (University of Utah)
This new comprehensive website provides videos and lessons on epigenetics. The website can be assigned to students as way of providing detailed information about epigenetics and its scientific applications.
NOVA – Epigenetics: A Tale of Two Mice
This website has educational videos that explain the science and implications of epigenetics on phenotype and behavior. It is scientifically accurate, contemporary, and uses relevant examples from everyday life.


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This is a great collection of material; it can be used to introduce "new and breaking" science (epigenetics) that also reinforces basic biology concepts (DNA to protein).  It provides examples of interesting connections between behavior and genetics and evolution, and highlights how nutrition and exercise affects not just an individuals health, but also the health of their offspring.

This collection contains quite a lot of information, and it would be helpful to hear more details about how its use is implemented (for example, which resources are assigned for students to complete on their own, how is their mastery of this material assessed, and which resources are successfully used in the lecture or lab?).

—matthew carrigan, Santa Fe College

This collection begins with the basics of toxicology and epigenetics and then builds into combining the two. The flow seems very logical. However, I haven't yet used this whole collection because I teach an introductory course. The material here may be a bit advanced for some beginning students. The website links would be very helpful in introducing the topic of epigenetics.

—Diana Cryderman, Bay Mills Community College