5 Engaging Ways to Teach Molecular Cloning to Make it Approachable for Students

Anjaney Kothari

Molecular cloning, a foundational biotechnology technique, helps edit DNA sequences by inserting genes of interest in microorganisms or cell lines. It is an essential step in genetic engineering, recombinant protein production, and genomic analysis, among other procedures.

Besides a knowledge of genes and microbiology, molecular cloning also requires a number of labyrinthine experimental steps. Thus, teaching this technique can be a daunting task for educators. Creating engaging methods to teach molecular cloning can make it an easier topic for educators as well as students. Here, we list five ways to teach molecular cloning to your students in an engaging manner.

1. Engage Students with Interactive Models

Being able to interact freely with biological macromolecules like DNA and proteins can make biological techniques easier to understand. Interactive models can make this possible for students.

Take Labster’s molecular cloning simulation, for example. Our highly interactive simulation teaches students a number of molecular cloning techniques, including how to:

·   Extract DNA from yeast cells.

·   Assemble a vector with the gene of interest and a reporter gene using the appropriate restriction enzymes and ligases.

·   Perform electroporation to transform yeast cells using the above vector.

·   Silence the gene of interest to determine its function.

UV transiluminator in the molecular cloning simulation.

2. Make the Topic Fun with Games and Activities

Games and activities in education allow students to develop practical skills, which makes them particularly useful in teaching experimental techniques. At the same time, games and activities provide the students an opportunity to hone their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

You can use a number of games and activities to teach molecular cloning in your classroom. Here are some examples:

·   You can use 3D molecular models of DNA to teach the function of restriction enzymes and ligases.

·   You can pose a biotechnology problem to your students, asking them to devise a molecular cloning procedure to solve it.

·   You can use 3D models of the cell membrane to teach the mechanics of electroporation.

3. Accelerate Learning by Incorporating Technology

Using advanced technologies in science education gives the gift of accelerated time-frames in the form of fast-forwarded virtual experiments. Simulation, animation, virtual reality and augmented reality are just a few of these transformative education technologies.

For example, in Labster’s molecular cloning simulation, students virtually conduct a molecular cloning procedure involving the DNA repair gene RAD52. In real life, molecular cloning can take weeks. But our simulation allows the students to experience all the steps of the procedure in under an hour. These include transformation, plate streaking, antibiotic selection, colony screening, DNA extraction, and cloning. 

EcoRI in the molecular cloning simulation.
Discover Labster's molecular cloning virtual lab!

4. Inspire Students Through Career Exploration

Molecular cloning is an indispensable part of the work lives of many professionals, including genetic engineers, clinical diagnosticians, and biopharmacologists. Students will be highly motivated to study molecular cloning if they learn about its significance in these diverse careers.

You can explain to your students how molecular cloning helps different professionals conduct their jobs. Alternatively, you can invite these professionals to give a series of seminars to your students. They can discuss the relevance of molecular cloning in their jobs, thus inspiring the students to learn the technique.

5. Connect Topic to Real-World Applications

Teaching theoretical concepts and scenario building in science education is all well and good. However, it is the real-world applications that ultimately help us understand the true significance of a topic of study.

For example, when teaching molecular cloning, talk to your students about how this process helps generate genetically modified crops. Discuss with them how molecular cloning helps identify some infectious diseases. Also tell them the importance of this technique in developing vaccines against infectious diseases.

Final thoughts

Molecular cloning involves a complex protocol covering nearly all the concepts that define the field of molecular biology. Not surprisingly, teaching it is no piece of cake for any educator, especially given the time and resources at stake. The five creative teaching methods we have discussed here will make molecular cloning more approachable for your students.

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