Viruses and the Pace of Evolution
— Using Film Clips From the Relic
Subject: Science/Biology; Science-Fiction;
Ages: 14+; High School;
Length: Film Clips: 3 minutes (in two segments); Lesson: 30 minutes; Homework: Research and Essay Assignment.
Excerpts from the Snippet Lesson Plan
Learner Outcomes/Objectives: These film clips and the ensuing discussion and assignment will provide students with an interesting change of pace in studying virology and the speed of evolution.
Rationale: Different aspects of life sciences are used in movies like The Relic to give events in the story a scientific framework and increased credibility. In The Relic, scientists put the existence of a monstrous creature into the context of DNA alterations through a virus, the ingestion of genetically modified nutrients, and a new wrinkle in the theory of evolution. Their hypotheses are completely fictitious, but the errors provide a context for learning the real scientific understanding of virus and the pace of evolution.
Description of the Film Clips: A monster runs amok in the Natural History Museum of Chicago when the museum is about to open a new exhibition. The creature seems to be connected to some crates sent to the museum by a scientist doing field work in a remote South American jungle. The crates are crammed with leaves containing a parasitic fungus. Even the ship that carried the crates from South America has become the scene of vicious attacks by the monster. But the monster is too big to have arrived in the crates and scientists at the museum are looking for an explanation.
The scientists in the movie hypothesize that the creature started as a normal being but was changed into this monstrous state by eating infested leaves from the crates. They claim that the virus would have inserted its own DNA to the cells of the plant and that in turn take over the DNA of any animal that eats it. However this altered DNA seems to be coding reptilian hormones and, in fact, turns out to be reptilian DNA altogether.
As confirmation of their theory, the scientists point to the case of a small beetle that accidentally ate from the same leaves and in matter of days became a bug the size of a small cat. Segment 1 shows the scientists, Margo and Dr. Frock, commenting on this after a DNA analysis reveals that the giant bug has reptilian DNA in it.
In the second film clip, the scientists describe their thoughts to a detective who is investigating the case. Dr. Frock relates their theory on the monster to a hypothesis about evolution called the Callisto Effect, for which he is seeking proof. The Callisto Effect is entirely fictitious and postulates that evolution can lead to a predator with extraordinary powers that is so strong and voracious that it causes the extinction of other species before dying out itself.
[The Snippet Lesson Plan continues with brief background on "Viruses and DNA Rewriting," "Acquiring New Genetic Information Through DNA Ingestion," "Mutations and Transformations," and "The Pace of Evolution." It then supplies step by step instructions on how to prepare the lesson and present it in class. The Snippet Lesson Plan concludes with an assignment requiring students to write an essay on recent findings about how evolution can cause relatively fast changes in populations, such as the ability of human adults to digest milk.]
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The film clips selected from The Relic provide teachers with an unusual way to vary the pace on a unit on viruses. .
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