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Marlee B. Marsh
Assistant Professor
Department of Biology
Columbia College
Who Killed Yew?: Murder and Mitosis

The purpose of this case is to teach introductory college biology students the basic process of mitosis, focusing on the fundamental cellular processes that occur during each of the stages-prophase, prometaphase, metaphase, anaphase, telophase and cytokinesis. It would also be appropriate for AP Biology students. The case is framed around solving a murder. The murder plot involves a naturally-occurring poison derived from Yew trees, known as paclitaxel. Paclitaxel is a mitotic inhibitor that works by inhibiting the depolymerization of microtubules so that the cell is arrested in metaphase. At the end of the case, students will be able to describe the basic process of mitosis, including the fundamental processes that occur in each stage. The discovery of paclitaxel led to the development of the chemotherapeutic drug, Taxol ®, and the case concludes by having students think about the correlations between poisons and chemotherapies. The case involves the use of videos, one of which was made by the author for this case, and can be used in a flipped classroom.