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Gender: In the Genes or in the Jeans?

A Case Study on Sexual Differentiation


Author(s)

William J. Hoese
Biological Sciences
California State University Fullerton
bhoese@fullerton.edu
Judith R. Gibber
Biological Sciences
Columbia University
jrg43@columbia.edu
Bonnie S. Wood
Department of Math and Science
University of Maine at Presque Isle
bonnie.s.wood@umpi.edu

Abstract

How are males and females different? Most people have a sex that is consistent on all levels: genetic, gonadal, internal genitals, external genitals. But sometimes there are discrepancies. This case explores the biology of human sexual differentiation and its social and ethical ramifications. In working through the case, students will also learn how scientists use laboratory experiments on animals and "experiments of nature," or conditions that occur naturally in humans, to help them understand human biology.  The case is modular to the extent that not all parts must be used. The case has been taught by the authors in a variety of courses including genetics, physiology, and a core curriculum science course for non-majors.


Objectives

  • To learn about the difference between autosomes and sex chromosomes.
  • To learn about human sexual differentiation at the chromosomal, hormonal, phenotypic, brain, behavioral, and legal levels.
  • To understand how scientists reached their understanding of these biological matters by considering both laboratory experiments on animals and "experiments of nature," or conditions that occur naturally in humans.
  • To consider some ethical issues related to unusual chromosomal, gonadal, and genital conditions, including the individual's right to know, the roles of parents and physicians in deciding what's best for the child, and society's attitude towards these individuals.
  • To gain experience in scientific reasoning, including making predictions based on alternative hypotheses, designing experiments, and interpreting results.

Keywords

Gender; chromosomal sex; gonadal differentiation; Mullerian ducts; Wolffian ducts; testosterone; genital differentiation ; AIS; karyotyping; steroid hormones; sexual characteristics

Topical Areas

Social issues

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division

Format

PDF, PowerPoint

Type / Methods

Directed, Discussion, Interrupted

Language

English

Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Developmental Biology  |   Genetics / Heredity  |  


Date Posted

1/14/2002

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 case includes an optional PowerPoint presentation (file below) covering the topic of genital differentiation (details provided in Teaching Notes).

  
  PPT on Differentiation

Answer Key

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