A computer lab exploring evolutionary aspects of chromatin structure and dynamics for an undergraduate chromatin course*


  • José M. Eirín-López

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, North Miami, Florida 33181, USA
    • CHROMEVOL Group, Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of A Coruña, Spain
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Address for correspondence to: José M. Eirín-López, CHROMEVOL Group, Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of A Coruña, E15071 A Coruña, Spain. Tel.: +34-981-167-000 (2257); Fax: +34-981-167-065. E-mail: jeirin@udc.es


The study of chromatin constitutes one of the most active research fields in life sciences, being subject to constant revisions that continuously redefine the state of the art in its knowledge. As every other rapidly changing field, chromatin biology requires clear and straightforward educational strategies able to efficiently translate such a vast body of knowledge to the classroom. With this aim, the present work describes a multidisciplinary computer lab designed to introduce undergraduate students to the dynamic nature of chromatin, within the context of the one semester course “Chromatin: Structure, Function and Evolution.” This exercise is organized in three parts including (a) molecular evolutionary biology of histone families (using the H1 family as example), (b) histone structure and variation across different animal groups, and (c) effect of histone diversity on nucleosome structure and chromatin dynamics. By using freely available bioinformatic tools that can be run on common computers, the concept of chromatin dynamics is interactively illustrated from a comparative/evolutionary perspective. At the end of this computer lab, students are able to translate the bioinformatic information into a biochemical context in which the relevance of histone primary structure on chromatin dynamics is exposed. During the last 8 years this exercise has proven to be a powerful approach for teaching chromatin structure and dynamics, allowing students a higher degree of independence during the processes of learning and self-assessment. © 2013 by The International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 41(2):95-102, 2013.