5 Exciting Ways to Teach Genetic Transfer in Bacteria

Anjaney Kothari

Drug-resistant bacteria, or ‘superbugs’, infect millions of people every year. The process of horizontal gene transfer allows for the creation of these seemingly invincible bacterial strains. Clearly, genetic transfer in bacteria is an incredibly important topic to study for students pursuing fields like microbiology or genetics.

But genetic transfer in bacteria can be a challenging topic, given the microscopic nature of these organisms. The complex genetic elements and cell machinery involved in the process further elevate the challenge. Thus, educators must come up with exciting methods to make bacterial genetic transfer an approachable topic for students.

Here, we list five ways to teach genetic transfer in bacteria that will make this topic interesting for your students.

1. Engage Students with Interactive Models

Interactive models can nurture students’ inherent exploratory behavior, which helps them learn better. You can use a variety of interactive methods to teach bacterial genetic transfer to your students.

For example, you can show your students some elaborate animations illustrating genetic transfer in bacteria. You can have separate animations on concepts like horizontal and vertical gene transfer, genetic variability and survivability, and so on. The students can pause the animations when they wish to, and zoom in on any specific part of an illustration to understand it better.

2. Make the Topic Fun with Games and Activities

Games and activities, when put to use to facilitate scientific learning, can enhance students’ critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Students get to apply logical reasoning in a risk-free manner while paving their way towards victory in a competitive environment.

Take Labster’s ‘genetic transfer in bacteria’ simulation, for example. This simulation takes students on a gamified mission against Dr. One, a villainous scientist eager to wipe out humanity. In a virtual board game, the students play against Dr. One, while learning about horizontal gene transfer and bacterial infection.

Genetic superbugs simulation.

3. Infuse Technology into Lessons

Using technology in the education sector guarantees a unique, visually impactful, easily accessible, and personalized learning experience for all students. This can be especially beneficial when teaching highly challenging topics like genetic transfer in bacteria.

There are many ways in which you can use technology to teach the essentials of bacterial genetic transfer. In Labster’s bacterial genetic transfer simulation, students virtually analyze a sample from a patient with Acinetobacter baumannii infection. They learn about conjugation, transformation and transduction while performing complex experiments in a mistake-friendly virtual environment. Our simulation also acquaints the students with setting up an agar plate and the Microbial Evolution and Growth Arena (MEGA)-plate.

Showing genetic superbugs up close in a virtual lab.
Discover Labster's Genetic Transfer in Bacteria virtual lab today!

4. Inspire Students Through Career Exploration

Many students are primarily career-focused and prefer to spend their time learning about concepts that can help them professionally. Talking to your students about the career opportunities that studying bacterial genetic transfer could offer is an inspirational teaching method.

For example, tell your students about how bacteriologists study the transfer of antibiotic-resistance genes through horizontal gene transfer. Talk to them about how genetic engineers perform artificial gene transfer in bacteria to study the underlying mechanisms.

5. Connect Topic to Real-World Scenarios

Discussing real-world scenarios in your teaching regimen can connect bacterial genetic transfer to aspects with which students can better relate. You can also introduce your students to some groundbreaking historical discoveries relevant to the topic. Make sure you bring the students’ attention to the real-world problems that these discoveries helped understand and solve.

For example, talk to them about the discovery of horizontal transfer of antibiotic resistance genes among bacteria. Tell them that antibiotic resistance is why we have dangerous strains of pathogenic bacteria like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Inform them about the role of horizontal gene transfer in the spread of pathogenicity-inducing factors among bacteria.

Final thoughts

The rise of superbugs is concerning, from both public health and scientific perspectives. The role of genetic transfer in this predicament is complex yet paramount. Thus, students and prospective scientists will benefit from a better learning experience when tackling this crucial topic. The five methods we have listed here can help educate your students about bacterial genetic transfer in an exciting manner.

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