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7 University-Level Biology Virtual Lab Experiments to Try with Students

Ginelle Testa
Biology
Higher Education
Teaching with Labster

It can be challenging for students to visualize all that’s going on behind biological scientific concepts. One benefit of virtual labs is that students can experience these concepts up close in ways they could not normally. For example, they can watch electrons flow and molecules move during each step of the electron transport chain or visualize DNA molecules during gel electrophoresis. 

Check out these seven biology virtual labs that will make teaching easier for you and more engaging for students. 

  1. Aerobic cellular respiration

  2. Diffusion and Osmosis

  3. Fluorescence Microscopy

  4. Photosynthesis

  5. Gene Expression

  6. Gel Electrophoresis

  7. ELISA

Biology virtual lab experiments

1. Aerobic cellular respiration

When oxygen is present, aerobic cellular respiration takes place. This process can be divided into three main phases: glycolysis, the Krebs cycle (sometimes called the tricarboxylic acid, TCA cycle, or citric acid cycle), and the electron transport chain.

At Labster, we have 5 simulations to teach students about cellular respiration. One of our popular ones is a virtual lab about Measuring energy consumption during exercise where students help basketball players understand how the food they eat gets converted to energy through glycolysis, the Krebs cycle, and the electron transport chain. They’ll use a mouse model to experiment with the effect of exercise intensity on oxygen and glucose consumption.

2. Diffusion and Osmosis

Diffusion is a transport phenomenon where particles move from a region where they are highly concentrated to an area in which they are less concentrated. Osmosis is a special form of diffusion where the water concentrations of two solutions separated by a partially permeable membrane reach equilibrium. This equilibration happens when water molecules move from the most concentrated solution to the least concentrated one.

In Labster’s Osmosis and Diffusion simulation: Choose the right solution for an intravenous drip, students will meet a patient in the hospital. He is dehydrated because of sunstroke and needs extra fluids. There are three solutions available, and they’ll have to choose which one is the correct one to avoid damaging his blood cells.

osmosis and diffusion sim

3. Fluorescence Microscopy

A fluorescence microscope is similar to a light microscope. Instead of shining the whole spectrum of visible light through the specimen, the fluorescent microscope only shines a specific wavelength on the sample.

During Labster’s Fluorescence Microscopy simulation, students will assemble the fluorescence microscope and discover how the key components help to create a high-contrast image. Students will learn how to use a fluorescence microscope to analyze an intestine tissue sample. They’ll discover what fluorescence is and what the applications and limitations of fluorescence microscopy in biology are. 

4. Photosynthesis

The many reactions involved in photosynthesis can be divided into two separate processes; the light reaction and the Calvin cycle. 

photosynthesis electron transport chain GIF

In the Photosynthesis simulation, you will observe the inner workings of the electron transport chain inside a plant cell and learn about the process of photosynthesis. Watch electrons flow and molecules move during each step of the electron transport chain. How can a photon of light be converted into chemical energy?

5. Gene Expression 

A gene is a section of DNA. It is the basic unit of heredity in living organisms. Genes encode information to construct functional proteins. This code is "read" through the process of transcription, which creates a complementary mRNA strand of the gene. mRNA then undergoes "translation" in a cell's ribosomes. The code is used to build a string of amino acids, ultimately constructing a protein.

In the Gene Expression simulation, you will learn how to sequence DNA and screen for genes that might be over-expressed in obese pigs. To do so, you will have to use state-of-the-art techniques such as Next Generation Sequencing and qPCR and perform proper data analysis to single out specific genes.

6. Gel Electrophoresis

Gel electrophoresis is a method used in laboratories to separate DNA fragments of different sizes and to estimate these sizes. DNA, for instance, a PCR product, is loaded in small wells in one end of a gel. An electric current is then applied to the gel (the positive electrode opposite to the wells). Because DNA is negatively charged, it will move through the gel toward the positive electrode.

gel electrophoresis virtual lab 4

In the Gel Electrophoresis simulation, students solve a crime by using DNA fingerprinting to identify a thief. They’ll use nucleic acid gel electrophoresis to separate and visualize DNA molecules and watch an animation to understand what happens inside the gel tank.

7. ELISA

ELISA is a commonly used assay. Trying to capture a specific protein amongst thousands of types of proteins is like looking for a needle in a haystack. With ELISA, you can detect and quantify substances, such as proteins. 

In the Immunology: Immunoassay for detecting SARS-CoV-2 antibodies simulation, students will investigateinvestige antibody production patterns in populations helps us understand how diseases like COVID-19 spread. Conduct immunoassays to detect blood serum IgG and IgM to discover the vaccination and infection status of a community exposed to SARS-CoV-2.

Access our virtual lab simulations

We have over 100 biology simulations in our catalog. If you want to try these labs or any of our other 300+ simulations, try our 30-day all access educator’s pass!