Genetics Project Ideas

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High school level genetics is usually a study of the basics of genetic theory and DNA structure. Though college level classes have the facilities and resources to conduct more advanced, and yet still somewhat basic, projects, high school resources would be more general, and require less intensive involvement on the part of the instructor and students.

One example is the fly lab. Infamous among college students, the lab uses Drosphila flies, a common and fast breeding experimental model, to teach the inheritance of traits. The lab requires constant attention from students, often alternating overnight visits to the lab among partners, and weeks to track the traits expressed by offspring of deliberate breeding crosses conducted in a controlled environment. However, this lab can be conducted by high schools with fewer resources thanks to online resources. One such resource is this virtual fly lab from Western Kentucky University.

On a more basic level of understanding, a genetics science project suitable for high school students is to build a model of DNA. This has many potential directions as students can capture many different aspects of DNA and genetic theory with the model. First, there is the helical structure of DNA. Paying attention to the components and bases, the project could focus on the chemical makeup of DNA or the structural differences between the three different types of DNA or between DNA and RNA. Second, there is how other molecules interact with DNA, and similarly third, what functional roles DNA plays.

These two focal points for the model building project could involve transcription factor binding, the replication fork, transcription and RNA production, helicase activity, polymerase activity, and a number of other snapshots of DNA over the course of cellular activity depending on the curriculum and expectations outlined for the project.

Another area on which a genetics project could focus is on chromosomes. With this focus, both meiosis and mitosis are potential themes along with a general model of chromosome structure. For the structure of chromosomes, histones and the difference between heterochromatin and euchromatin can be modeled. For meiosis and mitosis, models, cartoons, and any other visual representation of the processes are potential directions the student can take.

Karyotypes are another artistic project. These layouts of chromosomes are used to diagnose chromosomal disorders, which can be compared depending on the focus of the project. Down Syndrome (trisomy 21), for example, could be the theme of a project. A karyotype from a person without Down Syndrome can be compared to a person with Down Syndrome. Chromosome 21 can then be further elaborated upon if appropriate. Accompanying information would include basic research on what is currently understood about the disorder and how it occurs, introducing meiotic nondisjunction and mosaicism.

A final idea for a high school genetics project is a punnett square study. Similar to the fly lab and Mendel’s pea studies, the student would choose particular characteristics and breakdown the chances they would occur in the offspring. They can then continue for several generations based on stated assumptions to determine what the allele frequencies of the population will be so many years or generations later. There is an online punnett square calculator to assist in understanding this concept. This is also an evolutionary biology project and can incorporate ideas such as natural selection and Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. Similarly, a pedigree can be developed to trace the inheritance of a trait, such as those used to track the carriers of hemophilia in families.

In general, the project that is most appropriate for a high school genetics science project would depend on the specific guidelines and curriculum to be followed. There are a number of other genetics concepts that could be used in conjunction with some of the ideas above.

More about this author: Alicia M Prater PhD

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