Monday, March 12, 2018

Running Concept Lists Help Students Make Connections | TAPP Radio 8


Neurogenesis in the adult brain.
Cells hate calcium (an analogy)
Your take on teaching A&P
Running concept lists to enhance deep learning.

If you cannot see or activate the audio player click here.

(1:00) A new paper revives the old dogma that adult brains cannot produce new neurons—but it's not  without controversy. What should we tell our students? 


(5:52) A simple analogy can help students remember a recurring principle about cell behavior involving important ions.


(12:52) You've got some insights sparked by topics in this podcast series? Let's hear them, so we can get some power-brainstorming going! 


(14:24) We all find it difficult to put all the facts and details together in our heads in a way that makes sense—that helps us connect ideas and gain insights. A simple technique of running concepts lists can provide a concrete template for this process. Used over time, running concept lists and also train the brain to make such connections easily.

If the hyperlinks above are not active, go to to find the episode page.

Click here to listen to this episode—or access the detailed notes and transcript.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Teaching for Long Term Learning | TAPP Radio 7

The temperature of mitochondria.
A podcast recommendation.
Revisiting the cumulative approach.

If you cannot see or activate the audio player click here.

(0:50) Mitochondria run about 10 °C hotter than the other components of the cell. 

(2:20) Paul Gabrielsen of the University of Utah introduces his new serial podcast that tells the story of the discovery of remains of medical education cadavers buried on campus about a hundred years ago.

(6:26) A comment on Episode 4 by Margaret Thompson Reece sparks continued discussion of the value of (and practical suggestions for) a cumulative approach to teaching and learning. 

If the hyperlinks above are not active, go to to find the episode page.

woman with computer and stacks of books

Click here to listen to this episode—or access the detailed notes and transcript.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The A&P Professor | Trailer

Host Kevin Patton briefly introduces a podcast for teachers of human anatomy and physiology. 

Go to and click PODCAST to listen or get more information, including how to subscribe.

Click here to listen to this episode—or access the detailed notes and transcript.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Give Your Course a Half Flip With a Full Twist | TAPP Radio 6

New blood test for concussion.
Why red pens are not ideal for grading and feedback.
Flipped learning isn't as hard as it sounds.

If you cannot see or activate the audio player click here.

(1:04) The FDA recently approved a new blood test for concussions. How is the test used and what does it tell us?
(11:10) It’s a small thing, for sure, but the color pen we use for grading student work can have an impact on the tone of communication in a class.
(13:50) Subscribing helps you and others stay up to date with the world of A&P teaching! And it helps other teachers find this podcast when they search for it.
(14:35) Kevin flipped his first A&P course in 2006, a year before the term flipped learning was first coined by Bergmann and Sams. In this segment, he discusses how his case study may help you decide how to flip (or half flip) your own A&P course.
If the hyperlinks above are not active, go to to find the episode page.

Click here to listen to this episode—or access the detailed notes and transcript.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Concept Maps Help Students Find Their Way| TAPP Radio 5

Use concept mapping for student learning and assessment.
Blood doping is a perennial news topic that helps apply central concepts of A&P.

If you cannot see the audio player click here.

(0:48) Blood doping stories related to the 2018 Winter Olympics (or in any context) are effective in helping student students apply and integrate diverse concepts in anatomy and physiology

(6:32) The featured topic is concept mapping and its uses in helps students learn and helping instructors assess learning and diagnose misconceptions and other learning concerns.
Sample concept map

Click here to listen to this episode—or access the detailed notes and transcript.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Cumulative Testing Makes Learning Last | TAPP Radio 4

Kevin shares his experience of using cumulative testing to strengthen long-term learning.
Use video walk-throughs to help students navigate your digital course platforms.
Sometimes other people's genes influence an individual's biological traits.

If you can't see the audio player, click here.

(0:50) Things will get a lot more interesting if listeners start calling in with questions, comments, teaching tips, programming suggestions, updates, ...or anything else on your mind!

(2:20) A recent article in Science explores the idea the genomes of parents and others can affect traits—not just the genes within the individual's genome. This concept of "genetic nurture" expands the notion of the measurable biological influences of genes.

(7:34) You can help your colleagues and others find episodes of this podcast by influencing the search algorithms that guide the process. How? By subscribing to The A&P Professor podcast in iTunes or your favorite podcast app. Even better, consider giving a rating and leaving a brief review. Unless you really hate my podcast, in which case, please click here. Fans, please click on one (or all of these):

(8:14) In this age of digital teaching and learning, we must be able to help our students navigate their digital platforms: learning  management systems, adaptive learning platforms, college/department/course websites, and more. Brief narrated video walkthroughs (screencasts) are simple and quick ways to provide clear guidance to individuals and whole classes.

(13:13) In the featured segment, Kevin shares his case story of using cumulative testing to strengthen long-term learning in his course. Using an easy method of adding a few questions from prior tests to each test and exam, Kevin was able to better prepare his students for the comprehensive final exam. And hopefully carry the essential concepts of A&P forward into future courses and careers.

More details at the episode page.
Transcript available at the script page.

taking an exam

Click here to listen to this episode—or access the detailed notes and transcript.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Pre-Testing for a Powerful Learning Boost | TAPP Radio 3

The newest episode of TAPP Radio is here!

Pre-testing is not just for assessment—it helps learning, too.
A weird sneeze injury.
The Anatomical Society's list of online resources.
How many proteins are there in a cell?

If you cannot see the audio player click here.

A recent analysis suggests that a reasonable average number of proteins in a cell is 42 million. How might we incorporate that bit of trivia in our A&P courses? (0:41)

The UK's Anatomical Society has put together a list of online resources under the auspices of their Education Committee (4:40)

Can the explosive power of a sneeze cause injury? You bet. Here's a recently reported case of a rupture of the pharynx. Yikes. (6:11)

Pre-Testing isn't just for measuring prior competence before new learning starts. By itself, regardless of its use in course assessment, it's a powerful learning tool. Listen to Kevin's experience with pre-testing in his A&P courses. (10:28)

More details at the episode page.

Transcript available at the script page.

If the hyperlinks above are not active, go to to find the episode page.

man doing online work on a park bench

Check out the detailed notes and transcript of this episode!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Testing as a Teaching Strategy | Students Learn From Tests | TAPP Radio 2

A new episode of The A&P Professor podcast (TAPP Radio) is here!

Testing is not just for assessment—tests can be a primary way to learn.
What's in the new blood pressure guidelines?
Going to the annual HAPS conference?

I encourage all anatomy and/or physiology instructors to attend the 2018 Annual Conference of the Human Anatomy and Physiology in Columbus OH. (0:50)

I summarize a few key points from the new 2017 guidelines on hypertension and their impact on how we talk about blood pressure in our A&P course. (3:45)

A previous topic, spaced retrieval practice (Episode 1), is the basis for a new discussion of Kevin's experience using online tests to provide students with regular and required spaced retrieval practice. (10:17)

More details at the episode page.
Transcript available at the script page.

If the hyperlinks above are not active, go to to find the episode page.

Check out the detailed notes and transcript of this episode!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Why Spaced Retrieval Practice is Your Most Powerful Teaching and Learning Tool | TAPP Radio 1

Spaced retrieval practice may be the magic spell you are looking for.
An immune role for platelets.
Why a podcast?!

In this premier episode of The A&P Professor podcast (TAPP Radio), host Kevin Patton introduces himself and his reasons for launching this new series. (0:49)
An update regarding the role of platelets in innate immunity follows. (7:51)
Kevin then invites listeners to the Regional HAPS Conference in St. Louis. (13:04)
The featured topic is Spaced Retrieval Practice. (14:30)
More details at the episode page.
Transcript available at the script page.

If the hyperlinks above are not active, go to to find the episode page.

student taking a test

Check out the detailed notes and transcript of this episode!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Platelets vs. Bacteria

Platelets as potent scavengers of bacteria? Really?

Something like 750 billion tiny cell fragments called platelets circulate in the human blood stream. When an injury to a blood vessel occurs, they stick to the exposed collagen in groups—forming platelet plug. And trigger additional reactions that eventually result in a blood clot.

But did you know that they have other helpful jobs, too? Like rounding up bacteria and feeding them up to immune cells, which devour them to make us safe.

This innate immune function of platelets has recently been outlined by researchers, as the information below summarizes.

Read through the quick points below to get an overview of some immune functions of platelets. Then read the full articles if you want to know more about these discoveries—including some great diagrams, micrographs, and videos.

[A short item on this topic also appears in today's edition of my daily Nuzzel newsletter of curated headlines for A&P professors.]

Quick points about platelets as bacterial scavengers

  • At sites of vessel injury/inflammation, platelets that contact intact collagen stick together—but platelets that do not contact collagen are motile.

  • Motile platelets change shape from a "fried egg" to a polarized "half moon" to better navigate the shearing forces of blood flow.

    • They can even navigate "upstream" against the flow of blood.

  • Platelets can use mechanical force to pull particles—including bacteria—from surrounding substrates.

  • Platelets collect and bundle bacteria, which facilitates neutrophil activation and subsequent phagocytosis. 

Migration pattern of motile platelet (left). Platelets collecting bacteria into bundles.

What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?

  • Yeah, okay we don't have time to go into all the ins and outs of platelets in a typical A&P course, but we can mention that platelets are now known to have immune functions.

    • Consider circling back to this mention later, when (if) you cover innate immune mechanisms a bit later in the course.

  • Consider calling attention to the sensory functions needed for platelets to analyze their microenvironment within the bloodstream.

  • Consider pointing out the specialized structure and function of the platelet's plasma membrane.

    • Integrins (integral membrane proteins) have a role in detecting particles for adhesion, binding to them, and sorting them.

    • Invaginations of the plasma membrane facilitate bundling of bacteria.

  • The shape changes needed for migration and handling of bacteria require actin-myosin reactions to power them. As in muscle fibers, these contractions are triggered by influx of extracellular calcium. In case you want to circle back to that.

  • Perhaps we should make a stronger point in reminding students that although they are "cell fragments" without a nucleus, they're more than just bags of hemostatic chemicals.

  • All these opportunities to "circle back" to previously studied concepts helps students make connections in their developing conceptual framework. And help them form a better understanding of the "big picture."

Want to know more?

Platelets, On Your Marks, Get Set, Migrate!

  • Bambach S, Lämmermann T. Cell. 2017 vol: 171 (6) pp: 1256-1258
  • Introduction to the Gaertner, et. al., paper below—giving background and overview to enhance understanding of the new discoveries. Great diagram, too! Click "Supplemental information" in the article to access video clips. 

Migrating Platelets Are Mechano-scavengers that Collect and Bundle Bacteria.

  • Gaertner F et. al. Cell. 2017 vol: 171 (6) pp: 1368-1382.e23
  • Journal article describing the scavenger role of platelets. Includes a few very nice, simple diagrams—and some cool micrographs and data graphs. These can also be downloaded as PowerPoint slides. Click "Supplemental information" in the article to access video clips. 

Platelets Mediate Host Defense against Staphylococcus aureus through Direct Bactericidal Activity and by Enhancing Macrophage Activities.

  • Ali R et. al. Journal of immunology. 2017 vol: 198 (1) pp: 344-351
  • Journal article that supports the concept that platelets can kill MRSA bacteria and enhance their phagocytosis by macrophages.

[NOTE: If you can't access the full text of any resource, ask your school's reference librarian for help. If they can't provide direct access, they'll probably know how to get a copy of the resource for you. Quickly.]

Sketch: パタゴニア
Photos: LMU

Monday, November 27, 2017

Planning The A&P Professor Podcast Series

I've been looking at the possibility of launching a podcast series from The A&P Professor. Doing a bit of preliminary planning, taking workshops on how to do it right, doing daily vocal warm-ups—that sort of thing.

But since all my The A&P Professor work is done on my own time and my own dime—and only if and when it actually helps other A&P teachers—I want to make sure it'll be something y'all want before I jump in with both feet.

I also need some input on what you'd be most interested in hearing on a hip podcast from The A&P Professor.

So I'm taking the obvious next step—a quick survey.

Can you spare about two minutes of your time to give me your vote up or down on this idea?

Just go to and take the brief, anonymous survey.

If you also leave your name and address, I'll put you in a drawing for a free signed copy of Mosby's Handbook of Anatomy & Physiology.

Please forward this message to others you think might want to put in their two cents on this project—or want to put their names in for a free A&P handbook.

If you want to offer suggestions for topics, names of people to interview, or to volunteer to write some theme music, then fill out the Contact Form at The A&P Professor.  Use the same form if you are interested in being interviewed, want to act as a co-host, or occasional guest host, or want to help with production.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Got High Blood Pressure Covered? The 2017 Hypertension Guidelines.

With the new guidelines for high blood pressure popping up all over the news recently, we may wonder what we need to know when this comes up in our A&P classrooms. And we know it will—students love, love, love to connect what they are learning in A&P with what they are experiencing in their lives. 

It turns out that although the new 2017 Guideline For the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults is focused on how physicians should make diagnoses and manage patient care, the definitions of exactly what constitutes high blood pressure (hypertension or HTN) are important learning points in the undergrad A&P course.

I'll outline the main things for us A&P professors to know here, but do check out the resources I've linked below to deepen your understanding of current thinking regarding approaches to blood pressure (BP) health.

First, there are revised guidelines as to what constitutes high blood pressure or HTN:

  • Normal BP: Less than 120/80 mm Hg;
  • Elevated BP: Systolic between 120-129 and diastolic less than 80;
  • Stage 1 HTN: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89;
  • Stage 2 HTN: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg;
  • Hypertensive crisis: Systolic over 180 and/or diastolic over 120, with patients needing prompt changes in medication if there are no other indications of problems, or immediate hospitalization if there are signs of organ damage.

Regardless of the precise cutoffs listed above, in an interview discussing the new guidelines, the main author states that, "120/80 is normal, the same as we had before" the new guidelines. So I think we're safe in using 120/80 as an example of BP when discussing the normal science, even though technically it could be designated as "elevated." Not that we can't use an elevated variable measurement as an example when discussing the physiology of anything. The fact that even the main author of the guidelines uses 120/80 as the starting point of discussion makes me feel more confident in using it as the starting point of my course discussions, too.

The main thing to note in the categories above is that the cutoffs for HTN categories have been lowered. This puts many more people in an HTN category that were not there before. The main goal is for those folks to have conversations with their physicians to evaluate their risk for complications and develop a personalized prevention and care plan.

Note also that the category of prehypertension has been eliminated.

The new guidelines also recommend prescribing medication for Stage 1 HTN if the patient already had a cardiovascular event—or is at a high risk for such an event. They also recognize that many patients will need more than one medication to manage BP and that combining meds into one pill is likely to help folks take them consistently.

There are a lot of other recommendations, so reviewing the Executive Summary or similar resource (see below) may be a good idea.

What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?

  • If you discuss hypertension, or use case studies in teaching, you need to update the cutoff BPs you are using.
  • A BP of 120/80 is still considered the starting point for discussing blood pressure.
  • Consider discussing the impact of the changes in the new guidelines for ordinary people.
  • Discuss why such diagnosis, prevention, and treatment recommendations often change over time. Consider discussion other recent clinical updates.
  • Consider discussing specific changes suggested in the new guidelines.
  • Consider having students explore the Executive Summary and/or other documents and write their own summary or interpretation of key points. Perhaps they can create their own chart or concept map.

Need some free teaching materials?

SLIDE SET: High Blood Pressure
  • Kevin Patton. Lion Den Slide Collection. 18 Nov 2017
  • Small slide deck that includes an animated version of the BP Category chart pictured above. Part of the Lion Den Slide Collection (requires free registration to download). You can also download a static PNG image file of the chart in the slide collection set.

VIDEO: AHA 2017 | New High Blood Pressure Guidelines
  • America Heart Association. 13 Nov 2017.
  • Free video (viewable in the player above) features a chat with the main author of the new guidelines and summarizes the main points. Very practical and easy to understand.

SLIDE SET: 2017 Guideline For the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults
  • American College of Cardiology. 13 Nov 2017
  • Free set of almost 100 PowerPoint slides to use in teaching. And it has a decided focus on clinical applications, rather than the basic science. These are way, way beyond the coverage desirable in an undergrad A&P course. But some slides may be useful to you.

Want to know more?

New blood pressure guidelines put half of U.S. adults in unhealthy range
  • A. Cunningham Science News. 13 Nov 2017 
  • Plain-English article summarizing the first major update since 2003 aims to spur heart-healthy lifestyle changes. Has a useful graph and links to other articles and resources.

New Multisociety Hypertension Guideline Is Released
  • Allan S. Brett, MD reviewing Whelton PK et al. J Am Coll Cardiol 2017 Nov 13. NEJM Journal Watch Nov 2017.
  • Brief review of the larger report (listed below), summarize key take-away points.

2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults: Executive Summary
A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines
  • PK Whelton et al. Hypertension, Dec 2017, Volume 70, Issue 6.  DOI: 10.1161/HYP.0000000000000066
  • Free PDF of the Executive Summary of the larger report. I recommend reading this first, then decide if you need to read the whole report.

2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults
A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines
  • PK Whelton et al. Hypertension. Dec 2017, Volume 70, Issue 6.  DOI: 10.1161/HYP.0000000000000065
  • Free PDF of the entire report. It's huge, so make a whole pot of tea before starting it.

Potential U.S. Population Impact of the 2017 American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association High Blood Pressure Guideline
  • Paul Muntner et al. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. November 2017. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2017.10.073
  • Free abstract briefly outlines the impact of the new HTN guidelines.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Biomolecule Imaging Pioneers Share Nobel Prize

Today, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017 to Jacques Dubochet (University of Lausanne, Switzerland) and Joachim Frank (Columbia University, New York, USA), and Richard Henderson (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK). The award is given "for developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution"

Cool microscope technology revolutionises biochemistry

We may soon have detailed images of life’s complex machineries in atomic resolution. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017 is awarded to Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson for the development of cryo-electron microscopy, which both simplifies and improves the imaging of biomolecules. This method has moved biochemistry into a new era.

A picture is a key to understanding. Scientific breakthroughs often build upon the successful visualization of objects invisible to the human eye. However, biochemical maps have long been filled with blank spaces because the available technology has had difficulty generating images of much of life’s molecular machinery. Cryo-electron microscopy changes all of this. Researchers can now freeze biomolecules mid-movement and visualize processes they have never previously seen, which is decisive for both the basic understanding of life’s chemistry and for the development of pharmaceuticals.

Electron microscopes were long believed to only be suitable for imaging dead matter, because the powerful electron beam destroys biological material. But in 1990, Richard Henderson succeeded in using an electron microscope to generate a three-dimensional image of a protein at atomic resolution. This breakthrough proved the technology’s potential.

Joachim Frank made the technology generally applicable. Between 1975 and 1986 he developed an image processing method in which the electron microscope’s fuzzy two-dimensional images are analysed and merged to reveal a sharp three-dimensional structure.

Jacques Dubochet added water to electron microscopy. Liquid water evaporates in the electron microscope’s vacuum, which makes the biomolecules collapse. In the early 1980s, Dubochet succeeded in vitrifying water – he cooled water so rapidly that it solidified in its liquid form around a biological sample, allowing the biomolecules to retain their natural shape even in a vacuum.

Following these discoveries, the electron microscope’s every nut and bolt have been optimised. The desired atomic resolution was reached in 2013, and researchers can now routinely produce three-dimensional structures of biomolecules. In the past few years, scientific literature has been filled with images of everything from proteins that cause antibiotic resistance, to the surface of the Zika virus. Biochemistry is now facing an explosive development and is all set for an exciting future.

About the Nobel Laureates

Jacques Dubochet, born 1942 in Aigle, Switzerland. Ph.D. 1973, University of Geneva and University of Basel, Switzerland. Honorary Professor of Biophysics, University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

Joachim Frank, born 1940 in Siegen, Germany. Ph.D. 1970, Technical University of Munich, Germany. Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, New York, USA.

Richard Henderson, born 1945 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Ph.D. 1969, Cambridge University, UK. Programme Leader, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK.

What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?

  • If you talk about imaging molecules in your course, this could be a way to garner student interest—considering that this is a current and ongoing effort in science. I always have a brief "shape is important in biological chemistry and here's what we can see with current tools" because they're going to see all those little odd-shaped rutabaga blobs in illustrations in their textbooks.

  • If you bring up microscopy in your course, perhaps describing the types of microscopy, adding a bit of info on this could help show students that microscopy is still evolving—in exciting ways.

  • Consider using the annual Nobel Prize announcements as a springboard to discuss the process of scientific discovery. 

  • Consider mentioning the other major awards for scientific achievement and discuss what the judges seem to value most about scientific discoveries. The Nobel Prize is the one everyone has heard of, so it's a great place to start.

  • Use the Nobel Prizes (and other awards) over time as a way to keep students aware of the history of, and progress, of human biology. One could also address the global diversity of laureates.  Or the lack of other kinds of diversity among laureates.

Want to know more?

Popular Information 

Scientific Background


Image - 3D structures (pdf 1.4 MB)

Image - Blobology (pdf 8.5 MB)

Image - Dubochet's preparation method (948 kB)

Image - Frank's image analysis (pdf 1 MB)

Cool Animations (literally)

Structure and gating of the nuclear pore complex

Ion gating in the sarcoplasmic reticulum membrane

Antibody structure

Native LDL particles
  • Kumar V, Butcher S, Öörni K, Engelhardt P, Heikkonen J, Kaski K, Ala-Korpela M, Kovanen P

Changes in the water and ion contents of organelles during apoptosis
  • Nolin F, Michel J, Wortham L, Tchelidze P, Banchet V, Lalun N, Terryn C, Ploton D
Adapted from press release at
Click each image for its source/attribution

Monday, October 2, 2017

Nobel Prize for Biological Clock Mechanisms

The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has today decided to award the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm.


Life on Earth is adapted to the rotation of our planet. For many years we have known that living organisms, including humans, have an internal, biological clock that helps them anticipate and adapt to the regular rhythm of the day. But how does this clock actually work? Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings. Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth's revolutions.

Using fruit flies as a model organism, this year's Nobel laureates isolated a gene that controls the normal daily biological rhythm. They showed that this gene encodes a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night, and is then degraded during the day. Subsequently, they identified additional protein components of this machinery, exposing the mechanism governing the self-sustaining clockwork inside the cell. We now recognize that biological clocks function by the same principles in cells of other multicellular organisms, including humans.

With exquisite precision, our inner clock adapts our physiology to the dramatically different phases of the day. The clock regulates critical functions such as behavior, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism. Our wellbeing is affected when there is a temporary mismatch between our external environment and this internal biological clock, for example when we travel across several time zones and experience "jet lag". There are also indications that chronic misalignment between our lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our inner timekeeper is associated with increased risk for various diseases.

Our inner clock

Most living organisms anticipate and adapt to daily changes in the environment. During the 18th century, the astronomer Jean Jacques d'Ortous de Mairan studied mimosa plants, and found that the leaves opened towards the sun during daytime and closed at dusk. He wondered what would happen if the plant was placed in constant darkness. He found that independent of daily sunlight the leaves continued to follow their normal daily oscillation (Figure 1). Plants seemed to have their own biological clock.

Other researchers found that not only plants, but also animals and humans, have a biological clock that helps to prepare our physiology for the fluctuations of the day. This regular adaptation is referred to as the circadian rhythm, originating from the Latin words circa meaning "around" and dies meaning "day". But just how our internal circadian biological clock worked remained a mystery.

Figure 1. An internal biological clock. The leaves of the mimosa plant open towards the sun during day but close at dusk (upper part). Jean Jacques d'Ortous de Mairan placed the plant in constant darkness (lower part) and found that the leaves continue to follow their normal daily rhythm, even without any fluctuations in daily light.

Identification of a clock gene

During the 1970's, Seymour Benzer and his student Ronald Konopka asked whether it would be possible to identify genes that control the circadian rhythm in fruit flies. They demonstrated that mutations in an unknown gene disrupted the circadian clock of flies. They named this gene period. But how could this gene influence the circadian rhythm?

This year's Nobel Laureates, who were also studying fruit flies, aimed to discover how the clock actually works. In 1984, Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash, working in close collaboration at Brandeis University in Boston, and Michael Young at the Rockefeller University in New York, succeeded in isolating the period gene. Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash then went on to discover that PER, the protein encoded by period, accumulated during the night and was degraded during the day. Thus, PER protein levels oscillate over a 24-hour cycle, in synchrony with the circadian rhythm.

A self-regulating clockwork mechanism

The next key goal was to understand how such circadian oscillations could be generated and sustained. Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash hypothesized that the PER protein blocked the activity of the period gene. They reasoned that by an inhibitory feedback loop, PER protein could prevent its own synthesis and thereby regulate its own level in a continuous, cyclic rhythm (Figure 2A).

Figure 2B. A simplified illustration of the molecular components of the circadian clock.
Such a regulatory feedback mechanism explained how this oscillation of cellular protein levels emerged, but questions lingered. What controlled the frequency of the oscillations? Michael Young identified yet another gene, doubletime, encoding the DBT protein that delayed the accumulation of the PER protein. This provided insight into how an oscillation is adjusted to more closely match a 24-hour cycle.

The paradigm-shifting discoveries by the laureates established key mechanistic principles for the biological clock. During the following years other molecular components of the clockwork mechanism were elucidated, explaining its stability and function. For example, this year's laureates identified additional proteins required for the activation of the period gene, as well as for the mechanism by which light can synchronize the clock.

Keeping time on our human physiology

The biological clock is involved in many aspects of our complex physiology. We now know that all multicellular organisms, including humans, utilize a similar mechanism to control circadian rhythms. A large proportion of our genes are regulated by the biological clock and, consequently, a carefully calibrated circadian rhythm adapts our physiology to the different phases of the day (Figure 3). Since the seminal discoveries by the three laureates, circadian biology has developed into a vast and highly dynamic research field, with implications for our health and wellbeing.
Figure 3. The circadian clock anticipates and adapts our physiology to the different phases of the day. Our biological clock helps to regulate sleep patterns, feeding behavior, hormone release, blood pressure, and body temperature.

About the Nobel Laureates

Jeffrey C. Hall was born 1945 in New York, USA. He received his doctoral degree in 1971 at the University of Washington in Seattle and was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena from 1971 to 1973. He joined the faculty at Brandeis University in Waltham in 1974. In 2002, he became associated with University of Maine.

Michael Rosbash was born in 1944 in Kansas City, USA. He received his doctoral degree in 1970 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. During the following three years, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Since 1974, he has been on faculty at Brandeis University in Waltham, USA.

Michael W. Young was born in 1949 in Miami, USA. He received his doctoral degree at the University of Texas in Austin in 1975. Between 1975 and 1977, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University in Palo Alto. From 1978, he has been on faculty at the Rockefeller University in New York.

What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?

  • When you discuss biological clocks and rhythms in your course, this could be a way to garner student interest—considering that this is a current and ongoing effort in science. I begin discussing this at the beginning of the course—when covering  homeostasis.

  • Consider using the annual Nobel Prize announcements as a springboard to discuss the process of scientific discovery. 

  • Consider mentioning the other major awards for scientific achievement and discuss what the judges seem to value most about scientific discoveries. The Nobel Prize is the one everyone has heard of, so it's a great place to start.

  • Use the Nobel Prizes (and other awards) over time as a way to keep students aware of the history of, and progress, of human biology. One could also address the global diversity of laureates.  Or the lack of other kinds of diversity among laureates.

  • The sources below are great places to find media for teaching and for great, pithy explanations of complex topics for a "beginner" audience like our A&P students.

  • Want to know more?

    Advanced information

    P-element transformation with period locus DNA restores rhythmicity to mutant, arrhythmic Drosophila melanogaster.

    • Zehring, W.A., Wheeler, D.A., Reddy, P., Konopka, R.J., Kyriacou, C.P., Rosbash, M., and Hall, J.C. (1984).  Cell 39, 369–376.

    Restoration of circadian behavioural rhythms by gene transfer in Drosophila. 

    • Bargiello, T.A., Jackson, F.R., and Young, M.W. (1984). Nature 312, 752–754.

    Antibodies to the period gene product of Drosophila reveal diverse tissue distribution and rhythmic changes in the visual system.

    • Siwicki, K.K., Eastman, C., Petersen, G., Rosbash, M., and Hall, J.C. (1988).  Neuron 1, 141–150.

    Feedback of the Drosophila period gene product on circadian cycling of its messenger RNA levels.

    • Hardin, P.E., Hall, J.C., and Rosbash, M. (1990).  Nature 343, 536–540.

    The period gene encodes a predominantly nuclear protein in adult Drosophila.

    • Liu, X., Zwiebel, L.J., Hinton, D., Benzer, S., Hall, J.C., and Rosbash, M. (1992).  J Neurosci 12, 2735–2744.

    Block in nuclear localization of period protein by a second clock mutation, timeless.

    • Vosshall, L.B., Price, J.L., Sehgal, A., Saez, L., and Young, M.W. (1994).  Science 263, 1606–1609.

    double-time is a novel Drosophila clock gene that regulates PERIOD protein accumulation. 

    • Price, J.L., Blau, J., Rothenfluh, A., Abodeely, M., Kloss, B., and Young, M.W. (1998). Cell 94, 83–95.

    Content: Adapted from press release at 
    Illustrations: © The Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine. Illustrator: Mattias Karlén

    Thursday, June 22, 2017

    Why You Want Your A&P Students to Fail

    I want my students to fail. Of course I don't want them to fail the course, but I do want to give them a lot of opportunities to get things wrong as they learn new facts, apply new knowledge, and build their conceptual frameworks.

    Learning scientists have plenty of research that shows that failing to get things right at first, then correcting one's thinking by relearning forgotten facts and applying knowledge in better ways, strengthens mastery. And it reinforces long-term memory of facts—and long-term memory of how to solve problems.

    So I give my A&P students a lot of opportunities to fail. So that they can stop failing and be more consistent in succeeding.

    One way I do that is by using clickers—a student response system—during lectures, labs, and discussion. I do assign "participation points" for answering questions using this system in class, but I do not assign points based on whether the answers were correct or incorrect. I want them take risks—to fail sometimes.

    By failing to get something right on a "clicker question," they wake up to where their deficiencies in learning are. Then we work together to correct their knowledge. It's more likely that when they encounter a similar challenge later on in my course, they'll be in a better position to succeed.

    I also give my students a lot of opportunity to fail in taking online tests. In my courses, I give a lot of online tests that act primarily as formative assessments. That is tests that help them gain knowledge at the beginning of their learning and tell them how they are doing—not tests that primarily evaluate if they've succeeded at the end of their learning process (summative testing). Most of my summative testing is instead done in written exams.

    My frequent online tests do have grade points associated with them, but because multiple attempts are allowed, they have a built-in formative component. Because the questions are randomly drawn from question sets containing many items, each test attempt has different items—but is testing the same set of learning objectives. Students fail, then fail again, then succeed in such tests.

    Because those online tests are cumulative—testing over all prior concepts—they get continuous practice in retrieving and applying concepts. And ongoing opportunities to fail—then succeed. By the time we get to their midterm and final exams, they are ready to succeed.

    But wait! There's more.

    I also require my student to take pretests before they begin their online testing. The pretests come before any learning activity in a new unit. Thus, they have an initial opportunity to fail—and fail miserably—by taking a test on a new set of topics that they may have never seen before. Learning research—and my own experience—shows that such pretests really prime student learning. Maybe a miserable failure at the start gets our brains into a mode that helps us really figure out how to avoid such failure again!

    I realize that it may seem counterintuitive for either teachers or learners to embrace failure as desirable. But considering how we really learn—by falling, then getting up and trying again—it makes a lot of sense. And the science of learning backs up this approach.

    What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?

    • Consider adding opportunities for students to fail early in their learning by using low-stakes or zero-stakes tests and quizzes.

    • Consider using clickers or mobile-based student response systems to embed questions in lectures, labs, group activities, and discussions.

    • Consider embedding quiz items in your pre-class "flipped" course materials.

    • Encourage students to test each other outside of class to give additional opportunities for failure. Flash cards, concept maps, and similar study activities also provide failure opportunities that enhance learning.

    Want to know more?

    Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning
    • James M. Lang, John Wiley & Sons, Feb 16, 2016 
    • Book that summarizes many different ideas about how to apply learning science to your courses, it gives practical advice and a lot of examples of how to do "small" things in your course to promote the kinds of failure that promote learning.

    Failure is an Option: Helping Students Learn from Mistakes
    • John Orlando, PhD, Faculty Focus, 
      May 16, 2011
    • Brief column on the value of failure as a teaching tool. And mentions the idea that even the toughest teacher can have a class full of "A students" when we let them fail, then succeed.

    What is the difference between formative and summative assessment?
    • Carnegie Mellon University (Eberly Center | Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation), accessed June 15, 2017
    • Brief webpage contrasting formative and summative assessment.

    Testing as a Learning Tool | UPDATE
    • Kevin Patton, The A&P Professor blog, May 19, 2015
    • My most recent post that further explains the testing methods mentioned above. With links to additional resources.

    Cumulative Testing Enhances Learning
    • Kevin Patton, The A&P Professor blog, September 5, 2016
    • Briefly explains my use of cumulative testing in A&P courses. With links to additional resources.

    Student Response Systems: Trying Clickers in Your Course
    • Kevin Patton, The A&P Professor website, accessed June 16, 2017
    • My weminar on using clickers in the A&P course. With links to additional resources.
    Top photo: Sigurd Decroos
    Middle photo: ilker

    Thursday, May 4, 2017

    Reboot of The A&P Professor Website

    Next time you head over to the companion website for this blog at, you'll see a whole new website. Literally. The old website is enjoying a well-deserved rest on the beach of a sea of electrons, and a whole new—completely rebuilt—website has taken its place.

    Like rookie professors who replace veteran A&P professors, it still has a lot to learn. So I'm actively seeking your input on the kinds of things you'd like me to add or subtract from the website. Either comment on this blog post, or use the CONTACT form on the website.

    This new version of The A&P Professor retains a few of the design elements of the old one, like the Hip Logo. However, the website design is now "responsive" to allow resizing and rearrangement of page elements for easy viewing on any device—from desktop to pad to phone.

    I did a lot of pruning during the rebuild of The A&P Professor . I removed dated topics and book reviews, and the curated lists of websites and images. The latter just got out of hand for one guy with several "real" jobs, plus tending to a bunch of websites and blogs and a daily newsletter. When I started curating those collections, it was hard to find what we needed to teach A&P successfully—but now it's now much easier to find what you want on your own.

    The new website is now closely linked to another of my websites, the Lion Den. The Lion Den has also recently been rebuilt to focus entirely on the teaching and learning of human anatomy and physiology.

    So check out the Lion Den offerings as you explore the new The A&P Professor website! As always, I continue to appreciate your support!

    Thursday, April 20, 2017

    Huge Breakthrough in Human Anatomy & Physiology!

    This trend in misleading "click bait" headlines among science news outlets continues to spiral into infinity. Okay, "infinity" is an exaggeration, but apparently that's what it takes these days to get us reading the actual content of science articles. And a growing phenomenon is that the articles themselves include exaggerations within their content. That's the topic of my rant, er, post today.

    I've been thinking about this for a long while. I often discuss it in class with my students. Yesterday, I ran across a recent (January 2017) example of the perennial "scientists discover that the appendix has a function" headline: Your Appendix Might Serve an Important Biological Function After All 

    That example actually has a pretty good article about a study analyzing the evolutionary appearances and reappearances of the appendix in mammals and what that may tell us about this organ's function. But we already know enough about the functions of the vermiform appendix in humans that it's hardly true that its functions are completely unknown. The article clearly acknowledges that fact within the content, despite that attention-grabbing headline.

    Megakaryocyte producing platelets
    Another recent example was the round of excited shares on social media regarding the "discovery" that hematopoiesis (blood development) occurs in lung tissue. There were a lot of "wow, who knew?" tweets that week. Even from highly trained experts in A&P. But my Anatomy & Physiology textbook (p. 624) already has this information—and it surely cannot be the only textbook to do so.

    The journal article that prompted this wave of tweets and posts described some research in mice that expands our knowledge about this phenomenon—turns out that more is going in the lungs than we thought. The lungs may be the primary site for thrombopoiesis (platelet development), if human lungs work like mice lungs. But the fact that the lungs are sites of hematopoiesis—specifically platelet formation—is not new.

    I've shared these and other posts with exaggerated headlines myself—mostly on Twitter, Facebook, or my new daily newsletter from Nuzzel.

    However, I think it's way to easy to succumb to the excitement of a potential "new discovery" that turns out to be not new, or even a discovery, at all. As a blogger I know full well that exaggerated headlines get more "engagement", which leads to more "followers," which leads to better "brand recognition" and thus, more future "engagement." Who wants to spend time researching and writing when nobody is reading?

    But in science, maybe the public perception of how science works is better served by a more toned-down approach that recognizes what we already think we know, why we think we know it, and what any new studies can do to clarify, correct, or extend what we know.

    I know that none of us individuals can stop the tide of exaggerated science news headlines. I'm just using a platform I have to express my concern that we may be making a mistake by doing so. If everything is a "breakthrough" or even a "huge breakthrough," then maybe casual observers will miss those truly game-changing ideas when they come along.

    At least it's something to keep in the back our minds and we do our daily scan of science new headlines.

    What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?

    • Consider challenging your student to find the first new "science discovers the function of the appendix" article or post of the semester. (or spleen or gallbladder or any organ).

    • Find some posts or articles that have exciting "new discovery" headlines and analyze them as a class. The may help us all learn better the critical analysis needed when reading science content.

    • Have a class discussion regarding the balance between the excitement of discovery that drives science and the exaggerations of discovery that may mislead.

    • Consider making sure that your students know that the appendix has functions (and that the lungs make platelets). Just in case they become science journalists.

    • Consider throwing out science journalism or science writing as career options. They already have an interest in human biology—and they may soon discover they don't like the career path they first chose, after all.

    Want to know more?

    Your Appendix Might Serve an Important Biological Function After All

    • BEC CREW Science Alert 10 JAN 2017
    • Article about an evolution study of the appendix in many organisms and how that may relate to the organ's function.

    An Unexpected New Lung Function Has Been Found - They Make Blood

    • This article, with the subtitle Things just got complicated, outlines the recent work done in mice to show that most platelets (not just some platelets) may form in lungs. 
    • BEC CREW Science Alert 24 MAR 2017
    Megakaryocyte image: A. Rad