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Name: Andrew N.
Status: Student
Age: 20s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2002

I am currently teaching about Mendelian genetics, and so many of my students do not see the point of it at all. How much of it is used today in labs or by genetic counselors? It seems like it is not considered very important anymore in any high school curricula.

Maybe this tragic example can stir up your class. Recently a genetic disease was diagnosed in an adult male, 45 years old, which leads to brain disorders and is fatal and untreatable. In the past the man had donated sperm to a hospital to treat infertile couples--the standard checks had not detected the disease. From his sperm, 18 children were born. The discovery of his disease resulted in an ethical uproar: should the parents of these children be informed about the risk they run? It was decided to do so before the children reached adulthood, so that they would know if they were carriers. The back side of it: those children know now that their future is grim, for a disease that will only present itself at mid-life.

Treat this example in your class. Let them calculate what % of children were expected to suffer the disease with if the disease were autosomal/recessive etc. Link it to the ethical aspects. The example clearly illustrates how relevant the Mendelian genetics are.

Dr. Trudy Wassenaar

Yikes! I do not know what curriculum you are referring to, but biology is heading in the direction of molecular biology and away from the traditional systems/animals/plants approach in a big way. With the advent of the Human Genome Project, there is so much to know about ourselves and the way we work at the molecular level that there is not enough time in the year to teach it all. Consequently I have an entire year course in genetics that I teach. Look in any high school biology text and look at the number of chapters that are devoted to genetics and you will see this shift. Mendelian genetics is interesting to most kids, just because they have questions about how they got their brown or blue eyes or what the probability is that they can pass on a genetic disease to their offspring. It is important to understand Mendelian genetics in order to understand the importance of DNA and important to understand DNA to appreciate biotechnology issues: cloning, stem cells, genetically modified food, etc. Kids do not always know what is best for them-if it were up to them to pick what they wanted to learn they would usually pick the easiest path. And genetics is definitely not easy.


Mendelian genetics is the basis of all genetics research and discoveries. Many genetic disorders are listed as being caused by a single gene. See OMIM, the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man database, at Understanding the inheritance patterns of genes is essential as our knowledge of genetics expands. Without a solid foundation to build our knowledge on, we will not be able to master the nuances and newly discovered facts, or the new modes of inheritance, such as triplet expansion.

As new research takes us into adult diseases and diseases with multifactorial inheritance, students will need a greater understanding of multifactorial inheritance and statistical methods. Nevertheless, this will be in addition to single-gene, or Mendelian, genetics - not instead of.

Sarina M. Kopinsky, MSc, HED, CGC

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