Beverage-agarose gel electrophoresis: An inquiry-based laboratory exercise with virtual adaptation

Steven Clark Cunningham, Brad McNear, Rebecca S. Pearlman, Scott E. Kern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


A wide range of literature and experience has shown that teaching methods that promote active learning, such as inquiry-based approaches, are more effective than those that rely on passive learning. Gel electrophoresis, one of the most common laboratory techniques in molecular biology, has a wide range of applications in the life sciences. As such, we chose it as a platform to expose high school and undergraduate students to the active process of scientific inquiry in general, while specifically teaching electrophoresis. First, we optimized DNA electrophoresis in the laboratory by using common beverages instead of standard media (e.g., Tris-based media). Second, we adapted this laboratory process of progressive optimization to a Web-based format in which students had to achieve all the same steps of optimization by performing serial electrophoreses. And third, we evaluated the use of this entirely Web-based virtual laboratory exercise in high school and undergraduate biology courses. Students learned fundamental and practical principles of electrophoresis, while experiencing the essential inquiry-based process of optimizing a technique, and they also enjoyed it. Our findings provide a readily accessible, inexpensive, and intriguing technique for teaching electrophoresis and the progressive optimization of a laboratory technique.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-286
Number of pages6
JournalCBE life sciences education
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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