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Complex Traits

Author(s): Nancy Moreno, PhD.

Complex Traits

Complete instructions for conducting activities in this slide set, including materials needed, setup instructions, student sheets and answer keys, can be found in Complex Traits Guide for Teachers.

Students use the domestic dog as a model to learn about genetics, DNA, genetic testing, phenotypes, alleles, SNPs, and mutations related to desirable and/or harmful effects in certain dog breeds. (6 activities)   

Domestic dogs exhibit immense variety in size, shape, coat color and texture, and behavior. This variability is a product of selective breeding by humans, conducted to yield desirable genetic changes or mutations. Today, there are more than 400 distinct breeds of dogs. Complex Traits Guide for Teachers contains lessons that allow students to investigate and learn about modern genetics using the domestic dog as a model. The following activities are available.

1. Dogs — A Model for Modern Genetics – What is a phylogenetic tree and how does it help determine relationships between dogs and their closest relatives? 

2. Genotyping a Mixed Breed Dog – What characteristics about a mixed-breed dog determine it’s identity, and from where did the dog get each characteristic (phenotype)? 

3. Mapping a Mutation – What is the genetic code, and what process is responsible for physical changes in individual? 

4. Genes and Phenotypes – What is the difference between genotype and phenotype, and what process can change a phenotype? 

5. Hair Types in Dogs: Variation in Phenotypes – How might coat phenotypes of eight different breeds of dogs be categorized? 

6. Genetic Testing and Designer Dogs – Do genetic mutations produce desirable characteristics or harmful effects in different dog breeds?

Though originally created for middle school students, activities in this guide also may be used with high school students.


Funded by the following grant(s)

Science Education Partnership Award, NIH

Gene U: Inquiry-based Genomics Learning Experiences for Teachers and Students
Grant Number: 5R25OD011134


Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Using Learning Technology to Build Human Capital
Grant Number: 57363