Giant Pandas, Hormones, and the Evolution of a Lazy Bear
Department of Entomology
University of Georgia
This clicker case study looks at the role of hormone cascades in homeostatic control of metabolism in a charismatic organism, the Giant Panda. The case explores how Giant Pandas have adapted to a nutritionally poor food resource, bamboo, through changes in metabolism, particularly the thyroid hormones. The case was written for a flipped teaching approach whereby students prepare for class by viewing several brief videos created by the author. Then in class students view a PowerPoint presentation designed to guide them through the hypotheses, predictions, and results of a paper published in Science in July 2015 that examines the exceptionally low energy expenditure in the giant panda. The intended learning outcomes for this case revolve around both the cell biology of how hormones work and also around how physiology and evolution integrate to allow organisms to adapt to specialized niches. The case was written for a college level introductory biology course, but could also be used in an AP biology course or non-majors biology course.
- Differentiate between proximate and ultimate explanations for biological systems.
- Recognize the three key events in hormone signaling: reception, signal transduction, and response.
- Analyze how negative feedback and antagonistic hormone pairs can contribute to homeostasis.
- Recognize the brain and endocrine glands (and the hormones they secrete) involved in coordination of the nervous and endocrine systems in vertebrates.
- Differentiate between tropic and non-tropic hormones.
- Formulate a hypothesis based on current knowledge of a system.
- Use data to evaluate a hypothesis.
Keywordshormones; feedback control; thyroid; scientific method; physiology; endocrinology; panda; Ailuropoda melanoleuca; HPA axis; HTPA axis
Educational LevelUndergraduate lower division
Type / MethodsClicker, Flipped
Subject HeadingsBiology (General) | Medicine (General) | Evolutionary Biology | Nutrition |
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The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.
- What Do You Think About Pandas?
This trigger video is intended to engage students in the question of how the specialized diet of panda bears might influence their lifestyle. Running time: 3:33 min. Created by Trish J. Moore for the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, 2015.
- Proximate Versus Ultimate Explanations in Biology
This optional video introduces students to two complementary approaches to understanding biological systems by taking them through the example of the lac operon. Running time: 7:39 min. Created by Trish J. Moore for the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, 2015.
- Homeostasis, Hormones and Feedback Control
This video reviews homeostasis and the role of the endocrine system in the control of homeostasis. Running time: 12:42 min. Created by Trish J. Moore for the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, 2015.
- Homeostasis: Integrating External Environment with Internal Conditions
This video continues to review the theme of homeostasis control by the endocrine system but introduces the coordination with external signals via the nervous system by focusing on the hypothalamus-anterior pituitary-endocrine organ axis. Running time: 5:28 min. Created by Trish J. Moore for the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, 2015.