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Lesson Ideas

6 Articles from Texas

Teaching science in Texas? Engage your students with scientific research from their home state. Here, we present seven articles from Texas-based researchers adapted for middle and high school students. They cover various topics – from biodiversity to social science. All seven articles include an introductory video and questions to assess the students’ understanding.

1. Who lives in Texas groundwater?

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. 

This article is suitable for lower high school students.

2. How can we prepare for droughts?

Droughts are common in many parts of the world. Yet climate change has made them more severe and difficult to predict. This makes it harder for water suppliers to plan for the future. Currently, they use data from past droughts to make these decisions. But we think it’s important to consider future changes as well. We analyzed drought projections for Texas – a large state in the USA with both wet and dry regions. They show that the conditions there will be even drier and hotter in the future. Water planning needs to adapt to these changes and take future climate change into account. Climate models would be very helpful for that.

This article is suitable for middle school and lower high school students.

3. How can we grow models of embryos in the lab?

Studying embryos is important to understanding how humans develop. It can also help us understand some pregnancy complications. But access to embryos is very limited. We wanted to find a way to study embryos without actually needing any! We used stem cells to grow models of blastocysts – young embryos. Our experiments showed that stem cells can form structures that look like blastocysts. We called these models blastoids. Blastoids grow and develop at a similar speed as blastocysts. They also have the same size and cell composition. They are not embryos and cannot develop into an organism. But blastoids are a useful way to study human development.

This article is suitable for middle school and lower high school students.

4. How much do cow burps cost us?

What do cow burps have to do with climate change or the price of meat? Scientists say that the climate on the planet is changing because of an extra layer of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere. As it happens, all our activities release carbon. Scientists calculated that producing 1 pound of beef results in 30 times more carbon emissions than producing 1 pound of wheat. And most of this carbon comes from cow burps! Climate change is pretty expensive for us: for example, having to pay for houses and road reconstruction after super destructive storms. As a result, some people are suggesting we should charge ourselves a small fee for doing things that release a lot of carbon. If this happens, both wheat and beef will become a little more expensive. But the increase in beef prices would be higher.

This article is suitable for middle school and lower high school students.

5. Plants make antimalarial medication

If you think using plants to cure disease is a thing of the past, think again! Today, many medicines in drugstores contain chemicals from medicinal plants. An herb called sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua) is one of them. Sweet wormwood is a very effective medicine to treat malaria, the world’s deadliest disease. The active ingredient, artemisinin, kills malaria-causing parasites faster than any other medicine. We wanted to understand exactly how this plant makes artemisinin. We knew that sweet wormwood converts another molecule (DHAA) into artemisinin. But no one understood how! Here, we solved this biology problem using chemistry. We tagged DHAA molecules by developing a set of chemical reactions. Using technology, we then monitored the conversion of DHAA to artemisinin. We found this conversion happens spontaneously, without enzymes. Also, it occurs faster in the presence of light. Our understanding of artemisinin formation can help us develop better malaria medicines in laboratories.

This article is suitable for upper high school students.

6. How do gut bacteria control the brain?

Bacteria are everywhere – including our bodies. This is not a bad thing as they help us in many ways.  Many studies show that gut bacteria have an impact on behavior as well. During the first few months after birth, the brain actively develops. At the same time, bacteria enter from the diet and environment and multiply in the infants’ gut. As Bifidobacterium species (bifidobacteria) are the most common bacteria in the infants’ gut, we wanted to see if these bacteria play a role in the development of brain functions. We examined the behavior of mice which we treated with bifidobacteria only and compared it to the behavior of mice without any bacteria and mice that had normal mouse gut bacteria. The germ-free mice showed many important behavioral differences when compared to mice with normal bacteria, and the mice that had only bifidobacteria behaved similarly to the normal mice demonstrating how important these bacteria are.  The sex of the rodents also played an important role in whether bifidobacteria could change their behavior.

This article is suitable for lower and upper high school students.

That’s Not All!

If you’d like to find articles from other regions, check out our map, showing all our articles by research locations. 

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