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Justin F. Shaffer
Assistant Teaching Professor
J.shaffer@uci.edu
Department of Developmental and Cell Biology
University of California, Irvine
Anencephaly in Yakima: Many Questions, Few Answers

This case study explores the recent (2010 - 2016) outbreak of neural tube defects, specifically anencephaly, in a rural three-county region of Washington state, particularly Yakima, WA. The case study focuses on the biological aspects of teratogens that may cause birth defects as well as epidemiological investigations of disease outbreaks. By the end of the case, students will have explored how our environment may have severe biological consequences on the human body during pregnancy and will have evaluated governmental and scientific investigations of a rare outbreak of birth defects. This clicker case study was developed for a non-majors biology course entitled "Human Development: Conception to Birth," although it could be taught in any introductory biology course for majors or non-majors during a unit on human reproductive biology or developmental biology. The case assumes that students have no prior knowledge of developmental biology or birth defects. The case study could also be adapted for upper-division courses by getting more in-depth on the specifics of teratogen mechanisms, the developmental biology and physiology of neural tube defects, or more complex epidemiological analyses.


From Cow Juice to a Billion Dollar Drug, With Some Breakthroughs in Between 

Before the discovery of insulin in 1921, being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes was a death sentence. Despite the successful management of diabetes with purified animal insulin, potentially severe side effects were abundant, and alternative ways to produce insulin were needed. This case study guides students through the history of using insulin to treat diabetes, focusing on the development of recombinant DNA technology and the world's first bioengineered drug, recombinant human insulin, which is now used worldwide to treat diabetes. Through the course of this case, students consider the central dogma of molecular biology, the development of recombinant DNA technology, drug design, the importance of recombinant proteins to our society, and the ethical analysis and debates that occur as a result of some scientific discoveries. This case was developed as an introduction to an upper-division biotechnology course focusing on recombinant protein design and production, but could also be used in molecular biology, biochemistry, or introductory biology courses to highlight recombinant DNA and biotechnology.


The Sad But True Case of Earl Washington: DNA Analysis and the Criminal Justice System

In 1983, Earl Washington "confessed" to a violent crime that he did not commit and was sentenced to death row. After spending seventeen years in prison for something he didn't do, Earl was released in 2001 after his innocence was proven through the use of modern DNA technology. This clicker case guides students through the wrongful incarceration of Earl and explores the biological mechanisms behind DNA profiling and using DNA evidence in criminal cases. Students will answer clicker questions about the criminal justice system, the polymerase chain reaction, agarose gel electrophoresis, and STR analysis, and ultimately will be able to use DNA profiling methods to match a suspect to a crime scene. Students also will be able to explain how learning biology is important even for non-technical careers. The case was developed for a lower-division introductory biology course for majors and non-majors students, but it could also be used in more advanced courses if time is dedicated to analyzing PCR, electrophoresis, and STR analysis.