Mercedes Diez

Mott Hall School

Summer Research Program at Columbia University - 1997

My summer research at Columbia University was "Mouse T-cell receptor repertoire characterization". In order to understand my project, it was necessary to review and understand the immune system very well. I also realized the importance of knowing and comprehending the function of the unit of life ‘the cell’ and its components.

Investigating the Method by Which the Body Defends Against Pathogens

Immune System

[Teaching Standard D- Structure time for extended investigations] Before investigating the method by which the body defends against pathogens, students will learn about disease caused by bacteria and viruses, how they are transmitted, and how they exert their effects on their hosts. Then students will learn:

Nonspecific mechanisms of defense against pathogens - skin and membranes and the inflammatory response.

The recognition of antigens by antibodies.

The means by which the immune system recognizes and defends against pathogens present in blood or tissue fluid and compare that to the manner in which the system destroys infected, foreign, or cancerous cells. [5-8 Content Standard C- Structure and function in living systems]

How is disease spread?


Students will be able to explain how diseases, such as AIDS, are spread by exponential growth.

Materials :

2 cups for each student,

Give 10% of your students 0.01 M NaOH in one cup.

Give the rest of your students water in one cup.

The liquid should occupy 2/3 of the cup.


1. Give two cups to the students.One cup with liquid, the other cup empty. Explain to the students that 10% of the class will have "disease" liquid or a virus in the liquid and 90% will have water. Elicit from the students the purpose of this experiment. Then you may want to explain that the exchanges of liquids represent contact that can transmit disease. [5-8 Content Standard F- Personal health] [Teaching Standard B- Orchestrate scientific discourse]

2. Have students pour 1/4 of the liquid into the empty cup and mark that cup "control".

3. Have students exchange the original liquid with another student by pouring half of the remaining liquid into his or her liquid and take half back. Have students do this exchange two or more times with a different student each time.

4. Add 1 to 2 drops of phenolphthalein to both cups. Phenolphthalein is an indicator. The dark pink indicates which cups have the disease. [Teaching Standard D- Make accessible science tools]


What is the percentage of students who had the ‘disease’ at the end of the lab?

How does this lab simulate the spread of an infectious agent? [5-8 Content Standard A- Use evidence to describe and model]


Explain what you have learned in this lab?


Can you trace the infection to its origin?

Research Assignment:

Students can do research on polio and write an essay describing life in an iron lung .

A small group of students can interview a polio survivor and report to the rest of the class. [Teaching Standard D- Identify/use resources outside the school]


The Grim Reaper: Tell students that Thomas Malthus proposed that three "grim reapers" would keep the human population from expanding beyond limits that the environment could sustain. One of these "grim reapers" he describes as pestilence or disease. Ask students to use library resources such as almanacs to determine how effective disease is as a population limiting factors in developed countries versus lesser - developed countries. Ask them to write an essay defending or opposing his view. Students should also find out what the other two rim reapers are, according to Malthus.

Defending Against Pathogens


Ask students to make a large poster of everything that happens during the inflammatory response. They should indicate what is happening both at the site of the infection or injury and in other parts of the body away from the site. They should make their diagrams colorful and mark them with all the appropriate labels. [5-8 Content Standard C- Structure and function in living systems]


Ask students to prepare a skit about the inflammatory response. The following characters should be included: pathogens(several students), histamine, white blood cells that are releasing histamine, blood fluids (several students), macrophages, protein that causes fever, narrator(person explaining response), and pus. [Teaching Standard C- Use multiple methods to gather data about students]

Identifying White Blood Cells


Students will identify different kinds of white blood cells and determine the percentage of each in human blood.


prepared slides of human blood,


library sources on blood cells


Give the following directions to students:

1. Make a data table for the following data:

Number counted and percent of total,

Space for diagram of these cells: neutrophil, lymphocyte, monocyte.

2. Mount the slides on the microscope and focus on low power, then

turn the slide to high power. [5-8 Content Standard E- Understandings about science/technology]

3. Locate the neutrophil, a cell with a nucleus and several lobes. Diagram it.

4. Locate a lymphocyte. Lymphocytes have nucleic that nearly fill the cell. Diagram it.

5. Locate a monocyte, the largest cell. A monocyte contains a round nucleus that fills about half the cell. Monocytes are called macrophages when they leave the bloodstream. Diagram a monocyte. [Content Standard Unifying Concepts- Systems, order, and organization]

6. Develop a hypothesis as to the percentage of each type of white blood cell you will find.

7. Count a total of 50 white blood cells and keep track in your table of how many of each type you see.

8. To calculate the percentage of each type of white blood cell, multiply the number of each type by two. Record the percentage of each type in your data table. [5-8 Content Standard A- Use mathematics]


1. Which type of blood cell was most common?

2. What major difference did you notice between red and white blood cells?

3. Why would you expect the white blood cell count to go up during an infection?

4. What are the percentages of different kinds of white blood cells?


Design an experiment in which you could test the effects of using salt as a water wash to kill bacteria. [5-8 Content Standard A- Design scientific investigations]


Divide the class into groups of four. Each group should be assigned to one specific antibody. Using library resources, have students find out how their antibodies are unique and how they function. Then, one student should act as a talk show host interviewing the antibodies about their functions. Encourage students to use customs and props that are creative and instrumental.


Ask students to brainstorm a list of at least 10 infectious diseases they have had. They should decide which five diseases they want to discuss. For each disease, they should make a list of symptoms and the immune response that caused these symptoms to develop. [5-8 Content Standard F- Personal health] They should explain the treatment they received and describe how it helped. Have them hypothesize why some symptoms lasted longer than others.


Ask students to make a survey of their medicine cabinets at home. They should write lists in their portfolio of over- the - counter medications that are in the cabinets, and after reading labels, determine what symptoms they help to combat. Have students list alternatives to taking over - the- counter medications. Example for a cold would be drinking lots of fluids, resting, and hot lemon tea. Emphasis in this activity is to point out to students that medication is not always necessary. However, some students may find medicines that must be taken to avoid illness - such as medicine to reduce blood pressure or antibiotics. Point out that these medications are only available by prescription, not over the counter. [5-8 Content Standard F- Personal health]


Ask a group of students to interview a doctor who does organ transplants or a nurse in a hospital unit that does transplants. They should find out what kinds of transplants are most common, what specific problems are associated with certain transplants, and what is done to prevent rejection of the organ. [Teaching Standard D- Identify/use resources outside the school]


Students should research how the following autoimmune diseases are treated: multiple sclerosis, arthritis, rheumatic fever, juvenile diabetes mellitus, and myasthenia gravis. They should find out the symptoms, what population is most affected, genetic and environmental factors, and any late-breaking research regarding the disease. (You can group the students and each group can pick one autoimmune disease to research).


Biggs A, Kaskel A, Lundgren L, Mathieu D, Biology Living Systems, Glencoe, Macmillan/McGra-Hill, 1994; 646- 657

Cell: Building Blocks of Life - life science laboratory manual, Prentice Hall Science 1993


Return to Biology Lesson Plans Menu