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Linda Niedziela
Associate Professor
Biology Department
Elon University
No Matter If You’re Black or White: Race and Skin Color Variation

Human populations have adapted to varying intensities of sunlight with varying tones of skin coloration. The balanced interplay between melanin content and UV absorption allowed populations to successfully migrate from sub-Saharan Africa by influencing levels of two key vitamins: vitamin D and folic acid. This case study explores the evolutionary advantage of different skin tones for the human race; it also emphasizes the absence of scientific evidence for the correlation of abilities, talents, and other complex traits to skin color, and exposes certain social misconceptions linking skin color to specific traits. Although the discussion of race is not always a comfortable fit for science and biology courses, this case study uses the topic as an inherently interesting and important subject for applying basic biological concepts of DNA, the central dogma, and mutations to real world questions of physical difference and skin color. This case has been used in biology courses for non-science majors but would also be appropriate for advanced high school students.

Streams of Coal or Streams of Death?: A Toxicology Case Study

Mary Beth was raised in Western Pennsylvania, an area where thousands of abandoned coal mines have led to extensive contamination of streams and associated ground waters. Aquatic life has clearly suffered, but the health effects on people living along the waterways have not been so clear. In working through this interrupted case study, students consider the biological consequences for Mary Beth’s family by analyzing selected research articles. Originally developed for an upper level toxicology course, it would also be appropriate for a cancer biology course and could easily be adapted for a course in science and society or environmental studies.