Experimenting with Spirituality: Analyzing The God Gene in a Nonmajors Laboratory Course
References linking genes to complex human traits, such as personality type or disease susceptibility, abound in the news media and popular culture. In his book The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into Our Genes, Dean Hamer argues that a variation in the VMAT2 gene plays a role in one's openness to spiritual experiences. In a nonmajors class, we read and discussed The God Gene and conducted on a small scale an extension of the study it describes. Students used polymerase chain reaction to replicate a portion of their VMAT2 genes, and they analyzed three polymorphic sites in the sequence of these products. Associations between particular VMAT2 alleles and scores on a personality test were assessed by t test. The course, of which this project was a major part, stimulated student learning; scores on a test covering basic genetic concepts, causation/correlation, and laboratory methodology improved after completion of the course. In a survey, students reported the laboratory project aided their learning, especially in the areas of statistics and the linking of genes to behaviors. They reported high levels of engagement with the project, citing in particular its personal nature as motivating their interest.
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