Skip to Content

When a Gene Turned Off Is a Matter of Life or Death

Epigenetic Influences on Gene Regulation


Tracie M. Addy
Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning and Scholarship
Lafayette College


When Jordan is diagnosed with brain cancer (glioblastoma multiforme), his college plans are unexpectedly put on hold. This scenario is presented in order to teach students about gene regulation, as the efficacy of the drug Jordan receives for post-surgical treatment is dependent upon the activity level of a gene encoding a protein involved in DNA repair. This “flipped” case study requires students to prepare in advance outside of class by watching several short videos that have been selected to teach the basics of how cancer forms as well as the role of epigenetics in gene silencing. Inside of class, the case is delivered using a progressive disclosure format in which students gradually receive additional information to answer a series of directed questions. To determine a treatment plan for Jordan, students analyze data from a research study involving patients treated for his specific type of cancer. The case is designed for advanced high school biology classes as well as lower-level undergraduate general biology courses for non-majors and majors.


  • Distinguish between the DNA code and the epigenome.
  • Describe how the expression of a gene can be regulated through epigenetic mechanisms.
  • Describe how gene silencing can be implicated in human disease.
  • Predict how DNA methylation at promoters affects gene expression.
  • Describe the role of DNA repair in the treatment of glioblastomas.
  • Interpret graphical representations of data.


Gene regulation; gene expression; epigenetics; DNA repair; cancer formation; personalized medicine; gene silencing; methylation; MGMT; epigenome; glioblastoma multiforme; temozolomide

Topical Areas


Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division



Type / Methods

Directed, Interrupted, Flipped



Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Genetics / Heredity  |   Medicine (General)  |   Molecular Biology  |   Pharmacy / Pharmacology  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

Case teaching notes are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.

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.

Answer Key

Answer keys for the cases in our collection are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.


The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.

  • The Epigenome at a Glance
    This video clip describes the general role of the epigenome in gene regulation and its flexibility to change depending upon various environment influences. Running time: 1:47 min. Produced by Genetic Science Learning Center.
  • Insights from Identical Twins
    This video describes how twins carry the same genetic code, but over time can differ in their epigenetic tags due to differential environmental effects. Running time: 4:41 min. Produced by Genetic Science Learning Center.
  • Disease & Mutation: DNA Repair
    This video describes the effects of different agents that can damage DNA, how DNA is normally repaired, and how diseases can occur if repair mechanisms go awry. Running time: 1:05 min. Full transcript also available. Produced by the DNA Learning Center.
  • Epigenetics Tutorial
    This video describes several different epigenetic changes that can occur on chromatin. Running time: 2:13 min. Closed captioning available. Produced by New England Biolabs.