2016 journal article
Who Scared the Cat? A Molecular Crime Scene Investigation Laboratory Exercise
Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, 17(3), 451–457.
This introductory laboratory exercise gives first-year life science majors or nonmajors an opportunity to gain knowledge and experience in basic bioinformatics and molecular biology laboratory techniques and analysis in the context of a mock crime scene investigation. In this laboratory, students determine if a human (Lady) or dog (Kona) committed the fictional crime of scaring a cat. Students begin by performing in silico PCR using provided dog- and human-specific PCR primers to determine the sequences to be amplified and predict PCR amplicon sizes. They then BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool) the in silico PCR results to confirm that the PCR primers are designed to amplify genomic fragments of the cardiac actin gene in both dogs and humans. Finally, they use DNA quantification techniques, PCR, and agarose gel electrophoresis to identify the culprit and they confirm results by analyzing Sanger sequencing. Student learning gains were demonstrated by successful execution of the lab and by analysis and interpretation of data in the completion of laboratory reports. The student learning gains were also demonstrated by increased performance on a post-laboratory assessment compared to the pre-assessment. A post-activity assessment also revealed that students perceived gains in the skills and conceptual knowledge associated with the student learning outcomes. Finally, assessment of this introductory molecular biology and bio-informatics activity reveals that it allows first-year students to develop higher-order data analysis and interpretation skills.