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5 Ways to Make Animal Genetics a More Approachable Topic

Usama Attiq
Teaching with Labster

Introduction: Animal genetics

Genetics is the study of genes and their effects on organisms. Genes contain all the information about an organism’s appearance and functions. Additionally, genes tell us the similarities and differences between one organism to other organisms. Heredity comes from a Greek word (Hereditas) that refers to some characteristics that pass from parents to their offspring.

Animal genetics is the study of genes and variations in animals. Animals have a large number of chromosomes, that’s why they have an independent inheritance of characters.  The three main properties of any animal are reproduction, inheritance, and variability. In general, genes contain all the information that influences the survival, appearance, and role of animals. For example, genes are responsible for the eye color, shape, and coat color of animals. Animal genetics is an important branch of veterinary medicine that is based on the principles and perceptions related to genetics.

In modern animal genetics, DNA, RNA, or proteins are used for the determination of inheritance patterns in animals. Animal genes are stored in the DNA, so it contains all the genetic material of the animals.  The genetic information is transferred from DNA to mRNA and then transferred to ribosomes. The ribosomes can translate the stored information into proteins. Therefore, the functions of proteins can be helpful in determining inherited characteristics.

Additionally, the advanced study in animal genetics provides a new perspective on animal breeding, the treatment of diseases, and the prevention of animal diseases. There are several terms in animal genetics that are quite confusing for students. At Labster, we explain the difficulties that students face during learning animal genetics and also five ways to make it an interesting topic. In the end, we will share why a virtual lab simulation is important for students as well as for teachers.

Why animal genetics can be tricky to learn

Some students find animal genetics a difficult topic to learn. So, we explain the main reasons that make animal genetics a tough topic for students to understand.

1. It feels abstract

In animal genetics, there are many concepts like genes, alleles, and DNA that are abstract. Students cannot see a gene or DNA with the naked eye, so they find it tricky to learn only from textbooks. At the molecular level, many abstract concepts have existed and you can say that these are invisible concepts.

2. Relating different concepts

In animal genetics, students need to connect different concepts that can be difficult for them. Students may also experience difficulty reasoning because many terms relate to each other. So, they find animal genetics a confusing and boring topic to learn.

3. Several branches of animal genetics

Animal genetics is further classified into several branches. These are molecular genetics, genetic engineering, heredopathology, and basic genetics. In basic genetics, you learn about Mendelian genetics and cytogenetics. Mendelian genetics tells the information about the inheritance while cytogenetics is the study of cells and tissues of animals. Students may find it confusing to learn about all the branches of animal genetics.

5 ways to make animal genetics a more approachable topic to understand

As you know, students may experience difficulties while studying animal genetics. Here are 5 ways to make animal genetics an interesting topic for students.

1. Tell about the people behind that science

In the past, many people play an important role in the field of animal genetics. Students should know the people behind the work of animal genetics. The main aim of animal genetics is to learn animal genes and their association with reproduction, viability, and profitability. 

Jay Laurance Lush (Father of modern animal genetics):

Jay L. Lush was known as the “father of modern animal breeding and genetics”. He explained that animal breeding was not based on subjective appearance. There are genes that play role in animal breeding. He improved the science of livestock by combining genetics, statistical data, and practices. Lush was a professor and taught animal science at the Lowa States from 1930 to 1966. Moreover, he received “The national medal of science” and the “Wolf prize”. His research related to animal genetics and breeding gained an international reputation and many people liked his work.

2. Learn about Mendelian inheritance

Mendelian inheritance explains a specific pattern of passing traits from parents to offspring. The traits such as color and shape are introduced from one generation to the next generation and also develop the concept of recessive and dominant modes of inheritance. The inherited traits as well as diseases are transferred from one generation to another generation through the animal’s genetic code. There are five modes of inheritance that are following:

  1. Autosomal dominant inheritance: It is a genetic condition in which every offspring with the dominant allele is affected.

  2. Autosomal recessive inheritance: Autosomal recessive inheritance is a condition that affects the offspring if the variant occurs in both copies of the alleles.

  3. Y-linked inheritance: It is the easiest inheritance that can be identified. The reason is that it only presents in males, so it passes down from father to son in humans and other animal species.

  4. X-linked dominant inheritance: When a genetic condition is linked with the variant in genes of the X chromosome and the disease-causing allele is dominant on the normal allele, it is called X-linked dominant inheritance.

  5. X-linked recessive inheritance: It is a genetic condition associated with the X chromosome. Males are usually affected by X-linked recessive inheritance because they contain only one X chromosome.

Double muscling in cattle: Double muscling is a common condition in several cattle breeds. It is most common in beef breeds and rare in sheep breeds. It is caused by myofiber hyperplasia in which the number of myofibers increases.  Double muscling is characterized by an increase in muscle mass of beep breeds. The cattle with double muscling have a deficiency of connective tissues that make their meat lean and tender. The double muscling in cattle is due to the Mendelian autosomal recessive trait. There are some symbols used to represent the normal phenotype of cattle from muscular hypertrophy. The main gene responsible for double muscling in cattle is MSTN (myostatin) gene. 

3. Use color images:

Students can learn about animal genetics with the help of color images. When they see color diagrams during reading the topic, it can save in their memories. Pedigree is an important term in animal genetics. Pedigree is a chart that shows the phenotype, interrelations, and diseases in the organisms and their ancestors. It is a significant way to explain the inheritance pattern of certain traits. Symbols are used to represent family members, for instance, squares represent males and circles represent females.

The color diagrams like the one below can help students to understand the pedigree more appropriately. Moreover, it shows the complete chart that represents the traits of organisms passing from one generation to the next generation.  

Figure: An image of Pedigree from the Labster’s virtual laboratory on Animal Genetics

4. Importance of animal genetics:

Students should know the importance of animal genetics, so it will help to enhance their interest in this topic. Several animals can provide us with a variety of products such as eggs, meat, and milk.  All the functions of animals are due to the diversity of their genes. The genetic variations within the animals provide information about evolution due to the change in the environment.

Animal genetics is a science that can help to discover the answers related to the basic problems of mankind. These problems are related to the need for food, how to improve food, how to improve animal populations, and the treatment of many issues of animal health. 

With the help of animal genetics, we can improve the animal’s genes to enhance productivity and profitably. Genetic improvement is a time-consuming process but it can provide benefits to humans.

Additionally, Omic technology is also used to understand the genes of animals. This technology is also useful to get information about an animal’s normal physiological functions, diagnosis of diseases, assessment, prognosis, and causes of certain diseases of animals. Animal genetics is important to learn the process of inheritance, variations in genetic structures, and qualitative improvement of livestock production.  

Figure: An image of cattle from Labster’s virtual laboratory on Animal Genetics.  

5. Use virtual lab simulation

A virtual lab is an advanced method to teach students about complex topics like animal genetics. Teachers can use Labster’s animal genetics simulation that explains the topic in a simple way. In the animal genetics simulation, students can learn about different heredity traits, how to construct pedigree, identification of genes responsible for double muscling in cattle, and DNA testing. By using this simulation, teachers and students do not worry anymore because it explains tough topics like animal genetics more effectively.

Animal genetics GIF

Check out the animal genetics simulation here, or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual labs with your students.

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