Lesson Ideas

High School Intro Biology Collection

We’ve put together this collection of 13 scientific articles aligned with the topics in the high school introductory biology curriculum.

Each article is adapted from an academic research paper published in a peer-reviewed journal, re-written for students, and reviewed by the researcher.

Each contains an introductory video as well as questions to assess the students’ understanding.

Genetic Engineering

Abstract: Nobody likes the buzzing sound or itchy bite of mosquitoes. But mosquito bites are not just irritating: they can carry and spread deadly diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever and many more. What if we used genetic engineering to get rid of mosquitoes and prevent such diseases? Here we modified the genetic makeup of Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes (the main carriers of malaria). The mutation prevented females from biting and laying eggs. It spread through our caged populations quickly and drove them extinct. Our results pave the way for lowering mosquito populations in the wild and getting rid of malaria in the future.

  • Key term: gene mutation
  • Scientific figures: time series graph, pictograph
  • Scientific methods: CRISPR, data validation, experiment, gene editing, scientific modeling

Speciation

Abstract: Did you know that some salamander species in Texas live in water underground and never see the light of day? Unfortunately, overuse of groundwater, pollution, and habitat loss threaten them with extinction. Before we can decide how best to protect these animals, we need to know more about them. To learn more, we collected DNA from salamanders living in the springs and caves of the Edwards-Trinity aquifer system in Texas. Differences in DNA showed that the individual salamanders we collected fall into 14 different species. Three of those species were new discoveries! Then, we investigated how the different species were related, providing clues to how they evolved over millions of years. 

  • Key terms: adaptation, sustainability
  • Scientific figures: dendrogram, map
  • Scientific methods: DNA sequencing, field study

Biodiversity

Abstract: Imagine a world without apples, watermelons, and sunflowers… It doesn’t sound very good, does it? Unfortunately, it could actually happen. Bees help these (and many other) plants grow, but they have been dying. One reason for this is that bees are suffering from more diseases. To find out where these bee diseases come from, we collected 890 bumble bees and screened them for three pathogens. We also looked at the types and qualities of the landscapes where we found these bees. Then we created a mathematical model to help us work out how different landscapes affect bees. We found out that landscapes with lots of food (flowers) for bees and more nesting sites led to healthier bees. Our results highlight the need to protect natural landscapes to conserve wild bees.

  • Key term: ecosystem
  • Scientific figure: scatterplot
  • Scientific methods: data reconstruction, experiment, field study, PCR (polymerase chain reaction), representative sampling, scientific modeling

Organization of Living Systems

Abstract: What do you know about termites? Perhaps you’ve heard that some termites can infest your home. But there are many different species out there. For example, subterranean termites make tunnels in the soil to look for food. Like other social insects, termites divide their tasks by assigning them to different groups. We wanted to identify the specific individuals who are the most active during the start and expansion of tunnel construction. We monitored five groups of 30 termites for three days and found that it was usually three individuals who do most of the work all the time. We believe that these top busy workers are also responsible for the organization of the tunnel network.

  • Key terms: labor castes, termites
  • Scientific figure: bar graph
  • Scientific methods: data extrapolation, experiment, representative sampling

Heritability

Abstract: The Earth is getting warmer, and we can see the effects of it – destructive floods, severe droughts, and intense storms. Just as we must look for ways to adjust to our changing environment, animals and plants must also adapt if they want to survive. We wanted to know how animals’ reproductive traits change to help them survive in warmer climates. We looked at dragonflies because the males use dark coloring on their wings to attract mates and intimidate rivals. We created a database to compare dragonflies living in warm climates to those living in cooler climates. We found that male dragonflies living in warmer climates have less wing coloring than those living in cooler climates. We also found wing ornamentation in warmer areas to be lighter in color. This is because the darker coloring can overheat the dragonfly and they become unable to reproduce. Lighter or reduced ornamentation is naturally selected when climates are warmer.

  • Key terms: natural selection, reproductive trait
  • Scientific figure: line graph
  • Scientific methods: climate scenarios, observation

Evolution

Abstract: It is not easy being small. Especially when nature seems to favor larger individuals. But why don’t all animals evolve to be bigger? We studied a wild population of snow voles (a small rodent species) in their alpine habitat. Genetic analysis indicated a hidden evolutionary change: voles evolved to become smaller but the average body size of the population stayed the same. To understand the underlying causes, we separated genetic and environmental influences on vole body size. We found that young voles with genes for small bodies developed faster. This allowed them to survive better when environmental conditions changed (earlier arrival of winter). As a result, the population evolved towards a smaller body size. Our study shows that populations can evolve rapidly. But without a genetic perspective and understanding of the underlying causes, we may not be able to detect these changes.

  • Key term: natural selection
  • Scientific figures: bar graph, line graph
  • Scientific methods: experiment, scientific modeling

Relationship Between Structure and Function

Abstract: Vector-borne diseases are a major threat to human health. Diseases caused by viruses and parasites carried by mosquitoes kill millions of people every year. How can we control these diseases? One of the methods scientists have tried to develop recently is biocontrol – the use of natural enemies to control mosquito populations and thus the diseases they carry. We wanted to try a slightly different approach: using bacteria that reduce the mosquitoes’ ability to transmit viruses. We introduced these bacteria in local Australian mosquitoes and then released them back into a town where a lot of dengue outbreaks have occurred to breed with wild mosquitoes. Soon enough the majority of the mosquitoes in the area carried the bacteria. This has led to a drastic reduction in human dengue cases.

  • Key term: disease transmission
  • Scientific figures: histogram, pictogram, time series graph
  • Scientific methods: case study, data validation, PCR (polymerase chain reaction), representative sampling

Cellular Transport and Homeostasis

Did you know that the cell copies 50 nucleotides (letters of DNA code)per second when it is dividing? And it only makes one mistake per 100 million nucleotides! Most times even these mistakes are caught and fixed. But sometimes a mutation (mistake in the code) gets passed on. In eggs and sperm that means an unborn baby will get one bad copy of that gene. In most cases, even this is okay. The baby is a carrier of a bad copy of the gene, but often the good copy from the other parent will work well enough. In rare cases, though, a baby may receive a bad copy from both parents. This means they will have a genetic disease. There are several diseases that are caused by a single nucleotide mutation. Scientists have always wanted to use genetic editing to correct the bad part of the gene. We found a way to do it in real, live mice!

  • Key terms: DNA
  • Scientific figure: box and whisker plot
  • Scientific method: DNA sequencing, experiment, fluorescence imaging, gene editing

Cell Cycle

Have you ever heard of bacteriophages? They are tiny viruses that can infect and kill bacteria, including the harmful bacteria that make us sick! Scientists discovered bacteriophages (phages) over a century ago. And they are actually all around us! Researchers have found phages in sewage, soil, and even in our bodies. What if we used this natural enemy of bacteria to our advantage? Can phages protect us against bacterial diseases? Researchers have used phages to treat diseases in the past. But were they successful? We reviewed clinical reports of phage therapy for the last 15 years. Our research showed that phages can be quite helpful and phage therapy was successful against bacterial infections. This is really important because antibiotic resistance has become a major threat to our health.

  • Key terms: reproduction, replication
  • Scientific figures: microscopy image, pictograph
  • Scientific methods: case study, controlled blinded study, data validation, systematic review

Ecology (Interdependence of Organisms)

Bats – the only mammals that can fly! – are well adapted to life in the forest, but what happens when wildfires hit their homes? We wanted to find out how wildfires in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California affect bats. We looked at three different areas where there have been large fires and counted how many species of bat we found in those areas. We also looked at how different levels of fire severity affected bats. Our results showed that wildfires are beneficial to bats. This is mainly because fires make forests less cluttered, which makes it easier for bats to find food and roosting spots. Instead of preventing all fires, we should manage some fires burning far from people so that there is a mix of severities and bat habitats. This would help bats and also reduce the risk of out-of-control megafires happening in the future!

  • Key terms: biodiversity, conservation
  • Scientific figure: line graph
  • Scientific methods: climate scenarios, field study, survey research

Photosynthesis and Respiration

Humans are increasing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air through CO2 emissions. This is changing the climate, making life harder for many plants in areas that suffer from heat and drought. However, plants need CO2 to grow, and more CO2 can make them grow better. We wanted to test if the positive effect would offset the negative ones. To do so, we used scientific models to calculate future crop production and water use of four important crops all over the world under different scenarios of CO2 emissions and climate change. Our calculations show that although there will be large reductions in crop yield due to climate change over the next century, some crops will still be able to grow well. This is also because crops can grow with less water when CO2 levels are raised.

  • Key term: climate change
  • Scientific figure: map
  • Scientific methods: climate scenarios, scientific modeling

Cycling of Matter and Energy Flow

What is in your waste bin? Banana peels, used napkins, a broken pencil? You may think they are useless waste. But they’re not: they are waste biomass! They are made of once-living things and they store energy. There are four types of waste biomass.  Different waste conversion technologies turn it into energy. We wanted to know which combination would give us the maximum benefits. We found that we can gain lots of energy back from waste to help the environment. However, the right type of waste and conversion technology could be different for each part of the USA.

  • Key terms: biomass, renewable energy
  • Scientific figures: bar graph, pictograph
  • Scientific methods: life cycle assessment, scientific modeling

Genetic Expression in Cells

Did you know that each of the trillions of cells in your body makes decisions at every moment of the day? While cells do not have brains, they do have molecular sensors that tell them what to do if a certain molecule or signal is present around them. This makes them similar to a computer program: input – in, response – out. Unfortunately, just as a buggy software code can make a computer malfunction, sometimes bad genetic code inside our cells causes them to respond in a way that is bad for the body. A cancer cell, for example, has a broken code causing it to grow despite signals to shut down. Scientists have long sought to develop gene therapy – a way to fix or replace a damaged or missing gene within a person’s genome. Our team approached this challenge in a new way: we engineered something called a protein circuit and it seemed to work! 

  • Key term: gene therapy
  • Scientific figure: flow chart
  • Scientific methods: experiment, gene editing

That’s Not All!

You can find many other free adapted scientific articles for high-school Intro Biology topics:

All our scientific articles are reviewed for accuracy by the original research scientists and are FREE for educators around the world. If you found this collection useful, share it with others in your network.

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