Discovering Epigenetics


Key Content Areas: Genetics, Heredity, Evolution, Plant Development, Scientific Inquiry
Contributors: K. LaCelle, K. Mackey, E. Hughes, T. Fleming, E. Richards
Grade Levels: 9-12; Undergraduate; Can be modified for 7-8
Time Needed: 160 minutes; 6-8 weeks

Epigenetics is the study of inheritable traits that are due to factors other than changes in the gene sequence. Beyond the “nature vs. nurture” conversation, epigenetics is revealing new ways in which DNA is modified to protect itself from mutations. By studying epigenetics in plants, scientists are making important discoveries that can be applied to human health and medicine. In this citizen science lab, students grow Arabidopsis, the first plant to have its genome fully sequenced, and screen plants for mutations that may be due to epigenetic mechanisms. Seeds from mutant plants are collected and shared with researchers in the Richards laboratory.


Download Curriculum

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Full Manual
Teacher Manual
Student Manual

Pre- and Postlab Resources

Online Resources

Introduction to Arabidopsis thaliana: A Model Organism in Plant Molecular Biology Research

PREP program at Virginia Tech introduces students to molecular biology research with A. thaliana
Introduction to Arabidopsis in research (Video)
PREP program discusses variables to consider when growing A. thaliana in the classroom (Video)
See a single A. thaliana seed germinate in 50 seconds (Video)
Observe the growth and development of a single A. thaliana plant in a time-lapse video 

Detailed Methods for Growing Arabidopsis thaliana

CalState LA researchers share their step-by-step protocol
Graduate students in the UK entertain with song and show a simple planting method with paper. (Note in the scenario vernalization occurs after planting in cold chambers.) 
Plating and Sterile Agar growth methods – teacher guide 

Scientific Background for Teachers

A comprehensive portal for A. thaliana education and resources TAIR (The Arabidopsis Information Resource)
The international importance of A. thaliana research National Science Foundation
Scientific American Animation: Epigenetics Explained National Science Foundation


The Epigenetics Revolution, Nessa Carey, 2011, Icon Books, London
The Common Genetic Code 

Scientific Articles and Reviews

Active DNA Demethylation: Many Roads Lead to Rome Nature (2010)
DNA Methylation – Nature Review Articles Nature

Epigenetics in Popular Press (good prereading articles)

A Trip to the Gym Alters DNA Nature (March 6, 2012, Ruth White)
Podcast on Exercise and Epigenetics via Scientific American 1.5 
Long Life Passed Down through Generations Nature (October 19, 2011, Heidi Ledford)
Nature vs Nurture

Videos to Introduce Epigenetics and People

NOVA Science Videos: Epigenetics

Epigenetics (13 minute version)
Epigenetics (5 minute version)

The Ghost in Your Genes
Epigenetics and Systems Biology for the Public 
Longevity Genes

Epigenetics Curriculum

The Epigenetic Network of Excellence (NoE) Website:
The University of Utah – Teach Genetics (for Teachers)
The University of Utah – Learn Genetics (for Students)

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