Genetics

  • Down Syndrome

    • The discovery of the chromosomal basis of Down Syndrome is typically attributed to Jerome LeJeune (citation for original paper). While he did publish the first paper on the chromosomal basis for Down Syndrome, much of the work was done by Marthe Gautier. She recounts the story of her discovery in a 2009 paper in Human Genetics (freely available from Hopkins Medicine).

      • This could be a good topic for a debate. Both Nature and Science, two predominant scientific journals, discuss this debate. Some contend that LeJeune did in fact do the work, while others feel Gautier deserves more credit.

      • note: Gautier's paper is conversational and simple to read. This would be a great addition to an honors/AP biology class studying genetic disorders and ethics. The culture at the time did not favor discoveries by women. Gautier does use the term "Mongol" for the children, which is no longer considered appropriate. Thus, this would be another layer of cultural understanding to discuss in class.

    • This lovely video shows people with Down Syndrome from around the globe, which demonstrates that Down Syndrome affects a wide variety of people. The video also humanizes Down Syndrome for students; people with Down Syndrome can live full, happy lives.

    • The Global Down Syndrome Foundation has a US-centric FAQ that collates research on Down Syndrome to share current US understandings of Down Syndrome

  • Sickle Cell Anemia

    • Sickle cell anemia disproportionately affects those in Sub-Saharan Africa (scroll down to "sickle cell anemia") due to the heterozygote advantage (Luzzatto, 2012).

      • Discussing sickle cell anemia in class can lead to learning about malaria, efforts to eradicate malaria, the affects of malaria in various countries, and what can be done about malaria. This topic would integrate culture and science.

      • This case study investigates sickle cell anemia, how it works, and the influence on African nations.

  • Eye Color

    • This is an area with often unintended cultural bias. Eye color inheritance is a complicated topic. In Caucasian babies, eyes often start out blue. However, many articles about eye color imply that all babies have blue eyes when born. When discussing eye color, acknowledging multiculturalism means addressing the various common eye colors in different cultures.

    • Eye color and gene mapping is being done in European groups to determine which genes influence eye color.

  • The ethics of DNA -- who owns our DNA? Is the decision different in different cultures?

    • The NOVA documentary, Cracking the Code of Life, concerns the race to decode the human genome. There are scientists of many ethnicities in the documentary, though the narrator and main scientists are all Caucasian and mostly male. In Chapter 10: Finding Disease Genes (13:39), the documentary focuses on Iceland's genealogy records. Companies have requested access to correlate data on relatives with DNA data to discover the genetic source of diseases.

    • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks also tackles this subject. Lacks' cells (and therefore DNA) were taken without permission while she was being treated for cervical cancer. Her cells have been used to create the HeLa cell culture line, and they have been repeatedly sold. Does her family have a right to any of the profits? Should Lacks have been consulted? This book examines race, DNA, and ethics.

  • The prevalence of some genetic diseases in specific cultures