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Thomas and Sally

The Interplay of Scientific and Historical Evidence


Author(s)

Eric Ribbens
Department of Biological Sciences
Western Illinois University
E-Ribbens@wiu.edu
Andrew C. Lydeard
Department of Biological Sciences
Western Illinois University

Abstract

Did Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, have children with his slave Sally Hemings? This PowerPoint clicker case explores this controversial question as students consider the evidence for Jefferson as the father of Eston Hemings, as well as the limitations of that evidence. In the process, students learn about Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA and how they are passed down through generations. They also learn about the role of genetic tests in examining family lineages. In addition, the case serves to illustrate how science cannot always provide a direct and definitive answer and how conclusions often must be based on a mixture of scientific and historical (or other) evidence. The case was designed for an introductory biology course for non-majors but could easily be adapted for a majors' course or for the introductory portion of a genetics course. Students should have some prior knowledge of chromosomes and hereditability.


Objectives

  • Understand the concept that Y chromosomal DNA can only be passed between male lineages.
  • Explain that mitochondrial DNA is passed solely from mother to offspring.
  • Explain the role of genetic tests when examining family lineages.
  • Analyze and interpret family pedigrees.
  • Explore the concept of scientific evidence within a larger social context that includes attitudes and other forms of evidence.

Keywords

Chromosomal genetics; inheritance; mitochondrial DNA; Y chromosome; short tandem repeats; STRs; family pedigree; forensics; Thomas Jefferson; Sally Hemings

Topical Areas

Ethics, History of science, Scientific method, Scientific argumentation, Social issues

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division

Format

PDF, PowerPoint

Type / Methods

Clicker, Dilemma/Decision, Interrupted

Language

English

Subject Headings

Genetics / Heredity  |   Forensic Science  |   Biology (General)  |  


Date Posted

12/5/2013

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Comments


Ann Hefner-Gravink
ann.hefner-gravink@solano.edu
Biology
Solano Community College
Fairfield
12/05/2013
I can't wait to use this next semester in my Human Reproductive Biology course. This study is both compelling and informative. Thank you for your succinct, polished and interesting product.

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