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Seriously Loopy Science vs. Traditional Science

CN's picture

The entire structure of this biology class is unlike any other science class I have seen. It rejects most of the conventional ideas and methods of most science classes and embraces the individual’s ideas, perspectives, and insights. Conversely, most science classes are concerned with general terminology, scientific laws and methods, and long lectures. In order to properly evaluate the differences between the unconventional course and the more traditional book with relation to each other, one needs to consider only a few key concepts and evaluate accordingly. On this basis, I am going to compare and contrast this course and the book in both their presentation style and in the information offered. I have decided to choose a particular subject, prokaryotes evolution and their ability to transfer genes throughout a population, and evaluate what I have learned from each source. Using this as a foundation, I will also delve into the idea of horizontal gene transfer, the different ways the two sources have presented this concept, and what this says about the sources in general.

The book presents a lot of its information about prokaryotes, everything from their early beginnings to their relation to the changes in Earth’s environment. It talks about the properties of prokaryotes in relation to their evolution to and differences of eukaryotes. In addition, it places the change in prokaryotes onto the background of the changing Earth. This allows the reader to have a full and in-depth grasp of what prokaryotic cells are and their history on this Earth. There was also a similar introduction to these fascinating cells in class, but it was tailored more towards what particular aspects of the cell we would be discussing. The book has a strength in the overall information presented, but the class has a strength in its ability to modify the mass amount of information down to manageable size for the class.

One of the subjects regarded prokaryotes and how they evolved into eukaryotes. As per the book, the evolution is due to “a process called endosymbiosis [which] proposes that mitochondria and plastids were formally small prokaryotes living within larger cells” (523). These prokaryotic cells that would eventually become the mitochondria and plastids that are now found in the eukaryotic cells “probably gained entry to the host cell as undigested prey or internal parasites” (523). Once there, the two formed a mutually beneficial relationship. As time went on, the two became more and more interdependent to the point where they became a single organism with the individual parts becoming inseparable. Because of this, “some of the genes originally present in mitochondria and plastids were transferred to the nucleus, a process that may have been accomplished by transposable elements” (524). This point leads to the second interesting subject, which is the prokaryote’s ability to transfer genes throughout a population.

Prokaryotes are able to transfer genes to one another for many reasons, but the most important reason is because their physical construction allows for it. As previously discussed, the plasmids that are present within the prokaryotic cell have a bit of genetic information in it. In certain prokaryotic cells, “the plasmid genes provide resistance to antibiotics” (537). Because prokaryotes can transfer genetic information through horizontal gene transfer, the “plasmids replicate independently of the main chromosome, and may be readily transferred between partners when prokaryotes conjugate” (537). Through this ability to transfer genes, some of which are antibiotic resistant, prokaryotic cells are able to share this ability with the rest of the population, which helps them survive in harsh living conditions. “Horizontal gene transfer also facilitates rapid evolution in prokaryotes” (538). These cells can also survive because they “can adapt quickly to changes in their environment through evolution by natural selection. Because of prokaryotes’ rapid reproduction, mutations that confer greater fitness can swiftly become more common in a population” (538). In addition, “the rapid reproduction of prokaryotes enable conferring resistance to multiply quickly throughout prokaryotic populations as a result of natural selection, and these genes can spread to other species by horizontal gene transfer” (546). In summation, the book shows that prokaryotic cells, although some have evolved into eukaryotic cells, still thrive even in harsh living conditions because of natural selection and horizontal gene transfer.

Taking what the information from the book into account, it has shed a new light on some of the topics we have discussed in class. Each source, the book and the class, had both their strengths and their weaknesses. For example, the book has gone into much more detail in certain areas, which has given me a better understanding of these subjects. One such time is when the book showed the possible process through which prokaryotic cells could have evolved into eukaryotic cells. This was not a concept that was discussed much in class and the books clear presentation of this idea shed a new light on my idea of evolution in general. However, the books was surprisingly lacking in information regarding a prokaryotic cells ability to transfer genetic information in chapter 27, which is dedicated to prokaryotic cells. This is where class presentation and discussion allowed me to fully understand the importance of this ability. Aptly described as “sex without reproduction”, the class was able to go into much more depth and explain it in terms that were easy and interesting for the students.

Taking both sources into consideration and noting that both had their strong points, I have to say that I learned more and enjoyed the class much more then the book. Although I am basing this off a small portion of the book, I have found that I began to get hindered by the overly technical terms and overcomplicated concepts that were presented in the books. I think that if the course was based off of this book, I would not grasp the true concepts. Instead, I would concentrate on memorizing various facts and not on learning, which circumvents the point of the class. The class’s main strength is its ability to present the key concepts and terms in simply without overwhelming the individual student with unnecessary language that would overshadow the message. Thus, it is the basic architecture of the class that led to its success. No where in the book was it explained that nothing in science is concrete and that there are no complete truths and those are two eye-opening and necessary ideas.