Teach Genetics Probability with 23andMe Reports on Lactose Intolerance

Earlier this year, 23andMe had the pleasure of hosting a workshop in cooperation with the Bay Area Biotechnology Education Consortium (BABEC), an organization that was instrumental in my former career as a high school biotechnology and biology teacher. BABEC provides educators in the San Francisco area with professional development, reagents and equipment to perform advanced biotechnology labs with students. More than 50 high school and college educators attended the Saturday morning event at Skyline College, coming from as far as Seattle and California’s Central Valley.

The main goal of the workshop was to familiarize participants with 23andMe educational tools and resources that will enable them to design their own relevant and engaging activities for teaching key concepts in genetics in a novel way. As an example, I created a lesson about genetic probability that is based on my own family’s 23andMe reports for lactose intolerance. The activity has two objectives:

  • Predict the phenotypic and genotypic probability that a couple’s future child will experience lactose intolerance.
  • Determine genotype frequency at marker rs4988235 for different populations.

In this activity, students learn about one of the markers for the lactose intolerance phenotype and its associated variants. Students then deduce my family’s genotype and phenotype by putting together pieces of information from my family tree and completing Punnett squares. The second part of the activity has students use the Hardy-Weinberg equation to predict genotype frequency for lactose intolerance in populations reported on by 23andMe.

Putting 23andMe to Work in the Classroom

More than 60 sample reports, like the lactose intolerance report, are available for free on 23andMe’s new Educators website. This means educators and students do not need to be genotyped with 23andMe in order to access 23andMe reports for use in the classroom.   

Participants shared many of their own great ideas about how they might incorporate these reports, and other resources, into their own curriculum. One teacher suggested having students research a particular trait using 23andMe sample reports and supporting references. Students could then share what they learned about their trait in a brief presentation to the class. Another educator proposed the idea of using sample wellness reports to learn more about DNA can influence how we respond to certain lifestyle and environmental factors. Teachers could then have a genetic counselor visit the classroom to enhance students’ understanding how these characteristics are inherited and provide career insight. One high school teacher has already had students read through 23andMe’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for a class discussion on the bioethics of direct-to-consumer genetic testing.

It’s these types of ideas, and more, that the 23andMe Education Team wants to help teachers and other educators design, implement and then share with others. If you would like to work together to create an activity, or would like to share one of your own innovative genetics lessons, email us at educators@23andMe.com.

We look forward to hearing how you are  modernizing genetics curriculum in your own classrooms.

Ashley Horgan
23andMe Education Team

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