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5 Ways to Make Sensory Transduction a More Approachable Topic for Students

Usama Attiq
Teaching with Labster
November 2, 2022

Introduction: Sensory transduction

The main function of sensory transduction is the conversion of sensory signals to chemical signals in the nervous system. Sensory transduction occurs in the sensory receptors. In sensory transduction, the sensory neurons play an important role. The sensory neurons are commonly known as afferent neurons that are present in the nervous system. The sensory neurons can convert a certain stimulus to action potentials through receptors. The whole process of converting the stimulus to action potential is known as sensory transduction.

When a positive change occurs in the electrical potential of the neuron, it is known as the membrane potential. Membrane potential can use to depolarize the neuron in the nervous system. The sensory neurons are present within the skin to detect the sensation of pain, touch, and temperature. Multiple sensory transduction mechanisms are required to initiate the process for a single stimulus like heat.

In sensory transduction, all five senses, taste, hearing, touch, photoreception, and smell are involved. Some extra senses, such as electroreception, magnetoreception, and thermoreceptor are included in sensory transduction. Different sensory receptors are used for the different senses. The functions of each receptor are different from other kinds of receptors. All the receptors are specialized according to the type of stimulus.

Some important aspects of sensory transduction can be challenging for students to learn. At Labster, we compiled all the difficulties students experience while learning sensory transduction. We provide five different methods to make learning sensory transduction an easier topic for students to remember. At the end of the topic, we will explain why a virtual laboratory simulation is important for understanding difficult topics like sensory transduction. 

sensory transduction virtual lab

Figure: An image shows the frog's spinal cord from the labster virtual laboratory of sensory transduction

Why sensory transduction can be tricky to learn

Three main reasons can make sensory transduction topics difficult and challenging for students to understand.

1. It feels abstract

Sometimes, it is problematic for students to study abstract concepts. In sensory transduction, the sensory signals, neurons, senses, and receptors are abstract concepts because you cannot see them with the naked eye. If you need to see a neuron, it is important to use a microscope. Everyone is not an expert in using the microscope. Therefore, students may find it hard to understand these abstract terms.

2. Complex action potential

The action potential is the main process that students must understand in sensory transduction. In action potential, the electrical membrane potential of the cell rises and falls. This process is short lasting and rapid. The action potential is a phenomenon that can occur in many types of animal cells. Students need to remember the depolarization, polarization, and hyperpolarization in an action potential. Additionally, this process has a graphical representation that may be difficult for students to understand. This is the main reason students find this topic boring and time-consuming.

3. You need to understand patch clamp experiments

Sensory transduction is related to the senses and sensory neurons. So, you need to learn about the patch-clamp experiment. Patch clamp experiment is a technique used for the study of channels in living organisms. There are two types of patch clamp experiments; voltage clamp experiment and current clamp experiment. Students need to learn the whole procedure and the graph of these two experiments. So, students may find this topic complex and difficult to understand. 

patch clamp experiment

Figure: An image shows the schematic representation of the patch clamp experiment from Labster theory. 

5 ways to make sensory transduction a more approachable topic to understand

As we know the reasons that make sensory transduction a difficult topic, five ways can make sensory transduction easier for students to understand.

1. Basic knowledge about the types of neurons

The neurons are the basic unit present in the brain and spinal cord. The neurons send and receive the signals throughout the body. There are three basic categories of neurons.

  1. Motor neurons

  2. Sensory neurons

  3. Interneurons

Motor neurons: Motor neurons are the part of the central nervous system that can connect with the body's glands, hormones, and muscles. Motor neurons can transfer the signals from the spinal to smooth and skeletal muscles. These neurons can help control the movement of the muscles. There are two main types of neurons in humans; lower motor neurons and upper motor neurons.

Sensory neurons: Sensory neurons are the afferent neurons. The afferent neuron is those that can carry signals from the body toward the central nervous system. The stimulus can be physical or chemical that depends upon the five senses. Taste and smell are chemical stimuli, while touch, hearing, and heat can be physical stimuli.

Interneurons: The interneurons are the types of neurons that connect the sensory and motor neurons. Additionally, these interneurons have the ability to communicate with each other, which leads to the formation of complex circuits.

2. Learn about the classification of sensory neurons

The sensory neurons are classified into five types. It includes a chemoreceptor, thermoreceptor, mechanoreceptor, thermoreceptor, and nociceptor.

Chemoreceptor: Chemoreceptors are further classified into two types; distant and direct. The distant receptor can help to recognize something from a distance. On the other hand, the direct receptor can directly interact with the stimulus to produce the response.

Thermoreceptor: Thermoreceptors in the skin can respond against heat and cold temperatures.

Mechanoreceptor: Mechanoreceptors are those receptors that can be activated through mechanical pressure. These receptors are present in internal tissue like muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Photoreceptor: Photoreceptor is a type of sensory neuron that can transform light signals into electrical signals to create vision. Photoreceptors can further divide into two types according to their size and light-detecting properties. These can be rods and cons. The rods are larger and longer that can function in dim light. The cons are smaller and shorter that can work with a specific wavelength.

Nociceptors: Nociceptors are unique sensory neurons that can be activated by noxious stimuli. The dendrites of the nociceptor are the present external side of the skin. Additionally, these receptors are present in the cornea, mucosa, bladder, joint, digestive tract, and muscles.

3. Relate to the real world

It is important to provide examples related to sensory transduction to the students. It can help them to understand the topic better. There are multiple examples of sensory transduction because of the five senses.

  • An example of a chemoreceptor can be taste buds. The taste buds are sensitive to chemicals in the mouth. So, it can detect the change in the pH of the body.

  • Another example of sensory transduction is the pain receptors in the teeth. The pain receptor can be activated by chemical, temperature, and pressure changes.

  • An example of a photoreceptor is seeing the stars. The stars are the stimulus that can be far away from us. But the receptors in our eyes help us to see the stars.

  • When someone or something comes into contact with any part of the body. It is the stimulus of the touch receptor.

4. Seeing is believing

Color diagrams play an important role in understanding difficult topics like sensory transduction. In color images, the diverse colors make the topic more attractive for students to understand. Additionally, these diagrams can enhance the interest of students in memorizing the topic. It is easier for learners to memorize visual diagrams as compared with textbooks. In sensory transduction. There are some important processes through which signals can transfer. It can help to understand sensory transduction effectively.

The images presented below show the current clamp method and voltage clamp method. The graph shows the relationship between current and voltage with time. Generally, the current clamp method is used to detect the change in voltage through the ion channels. This method can help control the amount of current supplied into the cell. Through this image, students can easily understand the graph formation of the current clamp method and voltage clamp method. 

sensory transduction simulation

Figure: An image shows the current and voltage clamp methods for the Labster virtual laboratory of sensory transduction.  

5. Use of virtual lab simulation

Virtual lab simulation is an advanced method that makes a difficult topic easier for students to understand. At Labster, we provide 3D simulations that contain gamification elements like storytelling and a scoring system. It can help teachers explain tough topics like sensory transduction to their students.

Labster sensory transduction simulation explains the types and responses of sensory neurons, the response of a sensory receptor, voltage clamp experiment, analysis of patch clamp test to the contrast between two sodium inhibitors, and data collection. So, this simulation can help to learn all the important concepts related to sensory transduction.

sen GIF

Check out Labster sensory transduction simulation here, or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual lab simulation to share the sensory transduction with your students. 

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