This week’s lesson tackled genetics. This lesson was the start as we enter the biological anthropology realm. Genetics is important to the field of anthropology for it allows us to shed light on the molecular similarities that all individuals share.
The students were taught the basics of DNA and how to differentiate between one’s genotype (genetic make up) and phenotype (outward, physical, expression of genes). The class activity that was done for the day examined various traits across students in the class. Using a list of traits (presence of a widow’ speak, hitchhiker’s thumb, attached earlobes, etc), the students were able to identify whether or not they had a trait and group with other classmates who shared that same trait.
The goal of this exercise was to exemplify the diversity that is accounted for by genetics. Each of the traits we looked at had the possibility of either being expressed as being dominant or recessive. The students were not told prior to the exercise what exactly it meant to be “dominant” or “recessive” but quickly picked up on the fact that those terms have nothing to do with the frequency that which they occur–they simply refer to how they show up in your DNA. For the sake of simplicity, genes are expressed by alleles which can be written as being an uppercase (A) or lowercase (a) notation. Recessive refers to a gene being written as “aa” (homozygous recessive) or “AA” (homozygous dominant) or “Aa” (heterozygous dominant).
Through our exercise, the students found that they had a variety of similarities with their classmates–some that they had never thought of before! Chance plays a large role in genetics and it is through chance (such as genetic random mutations in our DNA) that causes diversity among us all. This lesson was an eye opener in showing us that there is always more than meets the eye.