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Bad Fish, Bad Bird

Neurotoxin Poisoning from Fish and Fowl


Kristina Hannam
Department of Biology
SUNY Geneseo


This "clicker case" is based on the General Biology edition of James Hewlett’s “Bad Fish” case in our collection. The case follows the story of biologist Dr. Westwood, who is accidentally poisoned, first while traveling in Asia and then in the South Pacific. Students learn about Dr. Westwood’s experiences and about nerve cell physiology—focusing especially on the role of ion channels in maintaining and changing electrical gradients across the cell membrane (resting potential and action potentials). They then apply what they learn in each part of the case to determine the mechanism of neurotoxin poisonings described in the case. The case is presented in class via PowerPoint (~2MB).  Students use personal response systems, or “clickers,” to answer the multiple-choice questions that punctuate the PowerPoint presentation as they explore the underlying mechanism of Dr. Westwood’s poisoning.

  • Apply basic concepts of cell membrane structure and function to answer questions related to the case.
  • Compare resting and action membrane potentials in a nerve cell using knowledge of membranes and transport mechanisms.
  • Explore the function of a neuron by using knowledge of cellular membrane potentials.
  • Recognize the actions of neurotoxins at the molecular level of cell function.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the difference between motor neurons and sensory neurons.
  • Explain the mechanism of action of an unknown neurotoxin using basic experimental observations.
Keywords: Neurotoxin poisoning; tetrodotoxin; TTX; dissociation constant; membrane transport; membrane potential; action potential; molecular interaction; nerve cell; neuron; nervous system; ion channel; puffer fish; pitohui; bird; Indonesia, Papua New Guinea
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF, PowerPoint
Type/Method: Clicker, Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Biology (General)   Cell Biology   Physiology   Molecular Biology   Biochemistry  
Date Posted: 03/24/10
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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