Which meaning do students, with knowledge of genetics on upper secondary school biology level, attribute to the concept ‘hereditary trait’?
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The field of genetics education is well researched as nowadays genetic literacy is found very important for the general public in order to be able to make well-informed decisions concerning genetics-related issues. Although several genetic concepts are thoroughly researched, few is published on the concept ‘hereditary trait’. This research studies students’ understanding of this concept. A questionnaire is held under 149 students with knowledge of genetics on upper secondary school biology level, in which students (1) gave a definition of the concept ‘hereditary trait’, (2) gave 5 examples of hereditary traits, (3) classified a list of traits as hereditary (yes/no/maybe) and (4) gave an explanation to their classification. It became clear that students have a limited view on the concept. Students mentioned for the most part only traditional examples of traits which are visible on the outside, independent from environmental factors, have a high variance within a population and do not change over time, such as: eye colour, skin colour and hair shape. They do recognize that hereditary traits are inherited or passed on from parents to their offspring and that they are coded in DNA/genes/chromosomes, but many students do not consider traits as hereditary which are also (partly) influenced by environmental factors, are not visible on the outside of an organism, with no variance within a population, are dynamical (change over time) and are on lower organisational levels which influence the chance or sensitivity to a certain trait or disease (biomarkers). Criteria to exclude these types of traits were mainly: if there is no variation within a population, if they are (partly) influenced by environmental factors or if it is caused by a mutation. Furthermore, a few misconceptions became clear. The results have implications for genetics education.