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Decoding the Flu


Norris Armstrong
Biology Department
University of Georgia


This "clicker case" was designed to develop students' ability to read and interpret information stored in DNA. Making use of personal response systems ("clickers") along with a PowerPoint presentation, students follow the story of "Jason," a student intern at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). While working with a CDC team in Mexico, Jason is the only person who does not get sick from a new strain of flu. It is up to Jason to use molecular data collected from different local strains of flu to identify which one may be causing the illness. Although designed for an introductory biology course for science or non-science majors, the case could be adapted for upper-level courses by including more complex problems and aspects of gene expression, such as the excision of introns.

  • Describe the transfer of information during gene expression from DNA to RNA to protein and the relationship between these sequences.
  • Understand that each chromosome contains a large amount of information and that only a small part of this information is needed to code for a specific protein. Identifying information to make a specific protein requires the use of punctuation at both the DNA level and at the RNA level.
  • Determine the protein coded for by a DNA or RNA molecule, and comment on how changes to the DNA / RNA molecule will affect the protein.
Keywords: Genetic code; DNA/RNA; transcription; translation; influenza; flu; vaccine; infectious disease
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF, PowerPoint
Type/Method: Clicker, Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Biology (General)   Molecular Biology   Public Health  
Date Posted: 8/3/2011
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.

Teaching Notes

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Answer Key

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I really like this case study, but keep in mind that influenza is an RNA virus. The gene sequence is given as DNA, which might confuse people (like it did me). Genbank flu sequence is given as cDNA, which might be what they used here.

Jennifer Leavey
School of Biology
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA
Response to Comment

We consulted with the author of the case study and have made changes to the case. Slide 25 in the PowerPoint presentation has been changed to include a footnote and the description in the teaching notes for this slide has also been changed to include the following two sentences:

    You may want to point out that influenza virus uses RNA for its genome. However, researchers often work with DNA copies (cDNA) of the virus’s genes and generally store information for genes as DNA sequences.

National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science
University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY 14260
This case is excellent practice for applying knowledge of the genetic code, but I think I will use it next time as a recap rather than a way to introduce the content. Also, I will include slides on flu next time instead of just giving them in the handout. There is a small error in the slide of the tRNA with the amino acid on the wrong end of the tRNA.

Rachelle Spell
Atlanta, GA
Response to Comment

Thanks, Rachelle! We have corrected this slide and reloaded the PPT on our site.

National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science
University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY 14260

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