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Murder by HIV? Grades 5-8 Edition


Michèle I. Shuster
Department of Biology
New Mexico State University
Naowarat (Ann) Cheeptham
Department of Biological Sciences
Thompson Rivers University
Laura B. Regassa
Department of Biology
Georgia Southern University


This case study gives students an opportunity to draw a conclusion about an actual crime that was prosecuted in Louisiana. A physician was accused of intentionally infecting his ex-girlfriend with HIV-tainted blood drawn from a patient in his practice.  The scientific investigation uses bioinformatics tools and relies on the ability to interpret phylogenetic trees.  Students develop hypotheses about the crime, then use sequences and online tools to generate a phylogenetic tree to test the hypotheses and render a verdict.  The authors have designed and implemented three parallel cases - one for Grades 5-8, one for Grades 9-12, and one for upper-division undergraduates, specifically for a course in molecular evolution.  This is the Grades 5-8 version.


  • Develop hypotheses based on preliminary observations and evidence.
  • Make predictions based on their hypotheses.
  • Use nucleotide sequences to build a phylogenetic tree.
  • Interpret the tree to draw a conclusion about an HIV infection.
  • Illustrate the use of science and technology in society.


Phylogenetic tree; nucleotide sequences; human immunodeficiency virus; HIV; viral life cycles; mutation rates; reverse transcriptase sequences; murder; crime; criminal investigation; forensics; Louisiana

Topical Areas

Ethics, Science and the media, Social issues

Educational Level

Middle school


PDF, PowerPoint

Type / Methods

Analysis (Issues), Directed, Discussion



Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Molecular Biology  |   Bioinformatics  |   Forensic Science  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.

Supplemental Materials

This .txt file contains the sequence for copying and pasting into the MUSCLE program.

  HIV ntide seqs v2 fas Text File