College Students’ Conceptions of Stem Cells, Stem Cell Research, and Cloning

Abstract

In this study, we examined 96 undergraduate non-science majors’ conceptions of stem cells, stem cell research, and cloning. This study was performed at a large, Midwest, research extensive university. Participants in the study were asked to answer 23 questions relating to stem cells, stem cell research, and cloning in an on-line assessment before and after instruction. Two goals of the instruction were to: (1) help students construct accurate scientific ideas, and (2) enhance their reasoning about socioscientific issues. The course structure included interactive lectures, case discussions, hands-on activities, and independent projects. Overall, students’ understandings of stem cells, stem cell research, and cloning increased from pre-test to post-test. For example, on the post-test, students gained knowledge concerning the age of an organism related to the type of stem cell it possesses. However, we found that some incorrect ideas that were evident on the pre-test persisted after instruction. For example, before and after instruction several students maintained the idea that stem cells can currently be used to produce organs.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The field of embryonic stem cell research is a rapidly changing one. The research currently making headlines involves induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, or “reprogramming”. Two labs concurrently published results indicating that somatic or adult cells could be reprogrammed to act like embryonic cells and differentiate into a different type of cell (Yu et al. 2007; Takahashi et al. 2007). However, this was new work at the time of the course and was not an emphasis. While the science will continue to advance, note that we judged students’ answers based on the emphasis of instruction at the time.

  2. 2.

    Please note that “organisms” was a mistake in the wording of the question (because a rock is not an organism) that should be corrected in future uses of the pre/post instrument. However, surprisingly, students did choose rocks!

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Correspondence to James P. Concannon.

Appendix

Appendix

Question Instrument

Stem Cell Pre/Post Test

  1. (1)

    What is an adult stem cell? Where are these cells found and what are their functions?

  2. (2)

    What is an embryonic stem cell? Where are these cells found and what are their functions?

  3. (3)

    Which of the organisms (see footnote 2) below have stem cells? Choose all that you think do have stem cells.

    1. a.

      dog

    2. b.

      fish

    3. c.

      tree

    4. d.

      bacteria

    5. e.

      rock

    6. f.

      bird

    7. g.

      human adult

    8. h.

      human fetus

  4. (4)

    Explain the reasoning for your answers to question 3 above.

  5. (5)

    What are some current medical uses for stem cells (specify adult or embryonic)?

  6. (6)

    Consider this statement: “Dolly the sheep was a significant breakthrough in stem cell research because it was the first time an animal clone was made with adult stem cells.” Do you think this statement is true or false?

  7. (7)

    Explain the reasoning for your answer to question 6 above.

  8. (8)

    Which of the following statements is/are true? Choose all that you think are true.

    1. a.

      Embryonic stem cells could be used to clone humans even though it has never been done.

    2. b.

      Stem cells are used to produce a baby by cloning.

    3. c.

      Scientists can grow stem cells in a Petri dish and then implant them in a woman’s uterus to create baby.

    4. d.

      Stem cells cannot be used to create a human or animal clone.

  9. (9)

    Explain the reasoning for your answer to question 8 above.

  10. (10)

    Which of the following statements is/are true about the current use of adult stem cells? Choose all that you think are true.

    1. a.

      They regenerate or heal tissues that cannot heal by themselves.

    2. b.

      They regenerate new organs for transplant purposes.

    3. c.

      They can be used for bone marrow transplantation.

    4. d.

      They can be used to cure spinal cord injuries.

    5. e.

      They are not currently used in any therapies.

  11. (11)

    Explain the reasoning for your answer in question 10 above.

  12. (12)

    Describe some of the differences between the uses of adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells.

  13. (13)

    Match the age of organism with the type of stem cells found in it.

    1. a.

      Adults (over 18 years of age)

    2. b.

      Adolescents (10–17 years of age)

    3. c.

      Children (1–9 years of age)

    4. d.

      Infants (birth-12 months)

    5. e.

      Blastocyst (4–5 days after fertilization)

      1. A.

        Adult stem cells

      2. B.

        Embryonic stem cells

      3. C.

        No stem cells

  14. (14)

    How is therapeutic cloning different from reproductive cloning?

  15. (15)

    What is the difference between a somatic cell and a stem cell?

  16. (16)

    What is the difference between an embryo and an egg cell?

  17. (17)

    What is the difference between using IVF to produce embryonic stem cells and using SCNT to produce embryonic stem cells?

  18. (18)

    Is federal funding for adult stem cell research currently available?

    1. a.

      Yes

    2. b.

      No

    3. c.

      Not sure

  19. (19)

    Is federal funding for all types of embryonic stem cell research currently available?

    1. a.

      Yes

    2. b.

      No

    3. c.

      Not sure

  20. (20)

    Have scientists cloned humans?

    1. a.

      Yes

    2. b.

      No

    3. c.

      Not sure

  21. (21)

    Is there federal funding for scientists to study cloning humans?

    1. a.

      Yes

    2. b.

      No

    3. c.

      Not sure

  22. (22)

    Which of the following statements is/are true? Choose all that you think are true.

    1. a.

      stem cells are genes

    2. b.

      stem cells can affect your genes

    3. c.

      stem cells do not contain DNA

  23. (23)

    Explain the reasoning for your answer to question 22 above.

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Concannon, J.P., Siegel, M.A., Halverson, K. et al. College Students’ Conceptions of Stem Cells, Stem Cell Research, and Cloning. J Sci Educ Technol 19, 177–186 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10956-009-9190-2

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Keywords

  • Stem cells
  • Cloning
  • Misconceptions
  • College students