Donate Today!   Join GSA      

Home | Contact GSA      

Teaching Tools
Genetics Learning Framework
GSA PREP - Labs and Exercises
Primers in GENETICS
Online Resource Room

PALM Network - Education Mentoring
CBE-Life Sciences Education Editorial Partnership
Where to Publish










GSA PREP Partner Resource

CourseSource articles linked to the GSA Genetics Learning Framework cross-posted here with permission    

You and Your Oral Microflora: Introducing non-biology majors to their “forgotten organ”




Anna K. Strain and Kieng B. Vang 



With limited time available for laboratory activities, introductory science courses for non-science majors typically use the laboratory period to reinforce material that was previously presented during lecture. This practice was true of a human biology course at the University of Minnesota, in which most lab activities centered on organ dissections. To break from this mold, we designed a new laboratory module to introduce students to their “forgotten organ”, the human microbiome. We chose this topic partly due to the explosion of recent research in this area, as well as the opportunity to expose students to online tools and techniques. Student motivation arose from the opportunity to determine the types of microbes that might be growing inside their mouth, and piqued their interest in how microbes could positively affect their health. Through a series of activities, a group of students from a large-enrollment course sampled and analyzed a subset of their oral microflora.  Using the NCBI BLAST tool, they were able to tentatively identify microbial sequences amplified using primers specific for 16S rRNA. The activities greatly expanded on topics covered only briefly in lecture and provided hands-on experience with scientific techniques. This module could be adapted to fit into a number of different formats. It has been used in an introductory biology course as a multi-week activity, and as a two-day activity with high school biology teachers. It could also be modified to be an in silico activity, with instructors guiding students to public databases to obtain sequence data.


Genetics Concept(s) Addressed:

Molecular Biology of Gene Function: How is genetic information expressed so it affects an organism’s structure and function?

Methods and Tools in Genetics: What experimental methods are commonly used to analyze gene structure, gene expression, gene function, and genetic variants?


Core Competencies Addressed:

Students should be able to implement observational strategies to formulate a question.

Students should be able to generate testable hypotheses.

Students should be able to critique large data sets and use bioinformatics to assess genetics data.

Students should be able to gather and evaluate experimental evidence, including qualitative and quantitative data.

Students should be able to identify and critique scientific issues relating to society or ethics.



Introductory undergraduate; non-majors

Activity Type:

Laboratory exercise

Activity Length:


7 weeks (10-45 minutes of active lab time each week), can be modified to fit a number of different formats




Strain, A.K. and Vang, K.B. 2014. You and Your Oral Microflora: Introducing non-biology majors to their “forgotten organ”. CourceSource. 00:xxx. doi:00.0000/journal.cs.000000

Article in CourseSource