Monday, December 31, 2007

How to teach Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium

Over on the Gene Expression blog there's a discussion about how to explain Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. Commentors are claiming that it's best explained mathematically rather than verbally. I'm posting a comment arguing that the best explanation is pictorial. Because I don't think I can put the picture in the comment I'm putting it here.

And here's the text of the comment I posted:
The best way to describe (and teach) Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium is neither mathematically nor verbally but graphically, using a drawing that's like a Punnett Square with allele frequencies replacing the alleles. I've posted an example on my teaching blog.

Viewed this way, HWE is so obvious and so intuitive that there's no need for ps and qs at all. (And there never was any need for the apparent complication of q, as it's just 1-p.) The sides of the square are simply labeled with the actual allele frequencies, and the areas they create are the genotype frequencies in the next generation.

Of course math will be needed to deal with the deviations from HWE produced by selection and other factors, but starting with this graphical explanation helps beginning students see how simple and inevitable HWE is. (My freshman class on this is titled "The incredible tedium of Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium".)

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