Who Killed Yew?
Murder and Mitosis
Department of Biology
The purpose of this case is to teach introductory college biology students the basic process of mitosis, focusing on the fundamental cellular processes that occur during each of the stages-prophase, prometaphase, metaphase, anaphase, telophase and cytokinesis. It would also be appropriate for AP Biology students. The case is framed around solving a murder. The murder plot involves a naturally-occurring poison derived from Yew trees, known as paclitaxel. Paclitaxel is a mitotic inhibitor that works by inhibiting the depolymerization of microtubules so that the cell is arrested in metaphase. At the end of the case, students will be able to describe the basic process of mitosis, including the fundamental processes that occur in each stage. The discovery of paclitaxel led to the development of the chemotherapeutic drug, Taxol ®, and the case concludes by having students think about the correlations between poisons and chemotherapies. The case involves the use of videos, one of which was made by the author for this case, and can be used in a flipped classroom.
- Explain the basic function and process of mitosis in animal cells at the introductory biology level.
- Recognize, draw and label interphase, prophase, prometaphase, metaphase, anaphase, telophase and cytokinesis.
- Understand and describe the role of microtubules in the process of mitosis.
- Learn what a mitotic inhibitor is, how it may work, and the outcome of inhibiting mitosis.
- Understand the basic science behind chemotherapy as a cancer treatment and why there can be side effects associated with chemotherapeutic treatment.
Keywordsmitosis; yew; microtubule; cell cycle; paclitaxel; poison; cytoskeleton; chemotherapy; Taxol; Taxus; mitotic inhibitor; cancer;
Educational LevelHigh school, Undergraduate lower division
Type / MethodsDirected, Flipped, Interrupted
Subject HeadingsBiology (General) | Cell Biology | Medicine (General) |
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The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.
This video explains the molecular mechanism of mitosis. Running time: 6:09 min. Produced by NDSU Virtual Cell Animations Project, 2011.
- Who Killed Yew?
This video explains how the poison paclitaxel inhibits microtubule function during mitosis. Running time: 1:56 min. Created by Marlee B. Marsh for the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, 2014.