The Joys of Mutation: Manipulating The Lac Operon

by Lorien E. Menhennett

Gene Machine: The Lac Operon

Click to Run

When I was homeschooled (preschool – 5th grade), my mom was all about interactive learning. We dissected animals, performed chemistry experiments, baked cookies to learn about adding fractions, all kinds of things. It made learning fun, and it made the learning stick. My love of interactive learning has continued, and it’s one of the reasons I love my science labs – we put into practice the skills and concepts that we have developed in the classroom.

Last week, my Genetics professor, Dr. Kreher, was able to bring that flavor of interactive learning into the classroom as well. We were learning about gene regulation, more specifically, E. coli’s lac operon (the set of genes and other elements that control for the breakdown of lactose, which is a source of energy for the bacteria in certain environments, including our digestive tract). Dr. Kreher had found a lac operon computer simulation program – which is free – that you can manipulate to see what happens when you “mutate” (i.e., remove) certain elements, add lactose, etc. It really made the system come alive, and I now understand the operon in a way that I had not before (in spite of the fact that I have studied it in past courses). I have included a link to the program in this post (just click on the picture above where it says “Click to Run”). While simple in terms of graphics and operation, it really represents how this system works, and what gene regulation means. I highly recommend checking it out. Have fun mutating!