COVID-19 and the Central Dogma: an activity to improve student learning and engagement.

Year of Publication: 
Roush C. and Burmeister, A. R.

The Central Dogma of molecular biology describes the transfer of genetic information within organisms and is a core concept in the biological sciences. However foundational, the Central Dogma is often misrepresented when taught in introductory college biology courses. In particular, the Central Dogma is often taught with a requisite DNA step, an incorrect conception that omits the possibility of RNA-based molecular systems, such as SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19. In this article, we offer a practical way to clarify correct conceptions and make them immediately relevant through COVID-19. In this new digital “sorting cards” activity, students collaboratively synthesize and map their knowledge of core molecular biology. Building off of the typically presented concepts of the Central Dogma, we also introduce two sorting card expansion packs for double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) viruses and single-stranded RNA (ssRNA) viruses. We provide activity templates for all sets of cards using a free web-based collaborative platform suitable for sudden shifts to online learning (as in our implementation), preplanned online learning, and in-person classes. While truly hands-on activities can be difficult to replicate in the context of online learning, the use of collaborative websites and creative freedom in this activity encourages student engagement in and ownership of their learning.