Hands-on Activity: Yeast Cells Respire, Too (But Not Like Me and You)
Educational Standards :
Pre-Req Knowledge (Return to Contents)
Students should be aware that yeasts respire anaerobically by breaking down molecules of glucose to provide energy for cellular activities, and producing carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol as by-products.
Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)
Materials List (Return to Contents)
Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)
Remind the class that yeast cells are microscopic, and ask them if we can actually see respiration occur in yeasts. Some students may suggest that with a good microscope someone might be able to see it. If necessary, remind them that cellular respiration involves individual molecules of glucose, carbon dioxide, and ethyl alcohol. Can these be seen with a microscope? Make sure students understand that molecules are too small to be seen with a microscope.
Then ask the class, "If molecules are too small to be seen, how could we tell if a beaker full of well-fed yeasts living in some nice, warm, water were respiring or not?" Give students some time to figure out that carbon dioxide is produced by respiring yeasts, and since it is a gas, it should bubble up to the surface of the water.
Then tell the class that that is just what they will do: try to determine if yeast cells are respiring or not. If students seem disinterested, ask what else respiring yeast cells produce. Pointing out that in the process of observing yeast respiration, the class will actually be making a "forbidden" substance -- ethyl alcohol. Mention that if the experiment works, i.e., students are able to provide the conditions necessary for yeast respiration, the classroom may begin to smell somewhat "beery" after a few days, and you hope the principal doesn't decide to drop in. At this point, your seventh-graders should be well motivated to participate!
Procedure (Return to Contents)
1) Make the following preparations ahead of time:
2) On the first day of the actual activity, students will set up the yeast-molasses respiration chambers.
3) For the next 3-4 days, students will take a few minutes of class time to observe their chambers and measure the heights of the carbon-dioxide bubbles within.
4) On the last day, when most of the bubbles are at the maximum measurable height, students make graphs that show how the heights of the gas bubbles changed over the time of the experiment.
Body of Activity:
Day 1 (It is best to start this activity on a Monday, so it can be monitored throughout the week.)
Give a simple explanation of how the class will try to indirectly observe yeast respiration by providing molasses as a source of sugar, and devising a way to try to capture the carbon dioxide gas that will be given off as the yeast cells respire.
Demonstrate how to set up the yeast respiration chambers, first using water to show how to remove air bubbles from the small test tube. Be sure to ask students why there should be no air present at the onset. Next demonstrate the same thing, using the 10% molasses solution instead of water. Be sure to caution students about pressing too hard on the stoppers.
Then show students the warm yeast solution, and demonstrate how to add yeast cells to the test chamber. This is done by first gently stirring the solution, then filling the pipette with some of it. (Since the yeast cells will settle to the bottom of the beaker, it is important to stir the solution first.) Gently squeeze exactly 6 drops of the yeast solution down the side of the large test tube. Do not put the tip of the pipette into the molasses solution. Advise students to practice dropping 6 drops back into the beaker of yeast solution before attempting to add them to their test tubes. The drops should be uniform in size and they should not contain air bubbles.
Demonstrate how to place a square of plastic wrap over the top of the chamber and smooth it around the tube's circumference. Point out that this is to keep out insects and other airborne contaminants. Also demonstrate how they can mark their chambers with their initials or some other system you have devised. (This can be done at the onset if you prefer.)
Allow students to practice with water before they actually set up their test chambers. As students finish preparing their test tubes, have them carefully wipe any liquid from the outside of the tubes with damp paper towels, and place plastic wrap over the tops. Then place the completed chambers in a test tube rack.
When all students have finished, place the racks where they will not be disturbed. Avoid very warm or very cool locations.
Days 2, 3, and 4 (and 5, if necessary)
Have students examine their test tubes to see if anything happened. Depending largely on temperature (but don't tell students that!) there may be only small bubbles present in the smaller tube or it may be nearly filled. It is okay if the smaller tubes float up as they fill with carbon dioxide and dislodge the plastic wrap. Be sure to avoid calling the bubbles produced "air" bubbles, since they are not filled with air. Ask students what the difference is between the composition of air and the bubbles produced by their yeast cells. If they don't know the composition of air, make it an assignment to find out.
Have students measure the heights of the gas bubbles (to the nearest millimeter) each day and record them. Continue this on a daily basis until nearly all of the small tubes are completely filled with carbon dioxide. Students can then graph their results using a bar graph or an x-y scatter plot, with time on the x-axis (dependent variable) and height of gas bubble on the y-axis (independent variable). Allow students a few minutes to compare their graphs with those of their classmates.
Ask students to describe what happened physically in their test tubes. Then ask them to describe how what physically happened gives evidence for what was happening with the yeast cells in their tubes.
Some students may have noticed the tiny bubbles floating upward from the bottom of the tubes, but seen that not all of these were trapped inside the smaller, inverted test tube. Some of the tiny bubbles escaped outside the smaller tube and rose to the surface of the molasses solution, where they were released into the air at the top of the chamber. So is the size of the gas bubble inside the smaller test tube an accurate representation of the amount of yeast respiration that occurred? It isn't, but it is safe to assume that the ratio of gas trapped to the gas that escaped is consistent across all the test chambers. This is because the yeast cells, which are denser than the molasses solution, sank to the bottom of the large test tubes when they were first added. The curved bottom of the tube caused them to occupy the center of the tube, where their population was visible, and where most of the carbon dioxide they produced would rise into the smaller inverted tube.
Students might also notice (from their graphs or the bubbles themselves) that during the first 24-48 hours (again, depending on ambient temperature), most of the bubbles grew relatively slowly in height, but then suddenly grew much bigger the following day or days. Give students some time to think about why that might be. If they need help, ask them how yeasts reproduce. If they don't make the connection, explain that one cell buds a new one to make two cells, those two become four, those four become eight, etc. A diagram sketched on the board will help. Also sketch a graph of a theoretical population size, with time on the x-axis and population sizes of 2, 4, 8, 16, and 32 on the y-axis. Ask if this graph is similar in shape to the graphs of the gas bubble heights. Make sure students make the connection that not only were the yeasts respiring in their test chambers, but because they had an adequate food supply (glucose from the molasses), they were also reproducing.
Ask students how they know that the bubbles produced were actually made of carbon dioxide produced by the yeasts. Without a chemical analysis of the gas, they actually don't know. Also ask them how they know that if they created an identical test chamber of molasses solution, but without adding the yeast cells, they wouldn't get the same result - a gas bubble that grew over time. Until they've done the experiment they don't know.
This is why scientists use controls when they do experiments in order to rule out other explanations of their results. In this case the control would be an identical test chamber set up without the addition of yeast cells, and placed alongside the experimental chambers in the rack for the duration of the experiment. If a gas bubble appeared and grew over the next few days, it could not be concluded that the gas bubbles in the test chambers were due to yeast respiration. Instead, it would be more likely that a chemical reaction within the molasses solution produced the bubbles. But if no gas bubble appeared in the control chamber, the most likely explanation for the growing bubble in the test chambers would be the production of carbon dioxide by respiring yeast cells.
Safety Issues (Return to Contents)
Troubleshooting Tips (Return to Contents)
If materials are prepared correctly and procedures are followed as instructed, all of the test tubes should show clear signs of yeast respiration. If gas bubbles are not produced, any of the following may have occurred:
Investigating Questions (Return to Contents)
These can be raised during the Discussion after the activity is complete (see Body of Activity, above), or they can be raised as the students make their daily observations and measurements.
Assessment (Return to Contents)
Present the following situation to students, and ask them to write down their responses:
Several loaves of bread that a baker made this morning did not rise as they should have. The result was flat, dense loaves that he cannot sell. He suspects that there may be a problem with the yeast, since he knows that it is the yeast that makes the bread dough rise. All of the yeast he used came from his one large supply.
How can you help the baker determine if his yeasts are functioning properly?
Activity Extensions (Return to Contents)
Like yeasts, some bacteria respire anaerobically. Yogurt is produced when bacteria break down lactose, the sugar contained in milk, to obtain energy for their cellular activities. Lactic acid is produced as a by-product, and this is what gives plain yogurt its tart taste. Plain yogurt is easy to make and does not require a lot of class time, although it does require a warm (about 40º C or 100º F) location for several hours. Have students conduct an Internet search to find a recipe that the class could make. Afterwards, students might enjoy bringing in flavorings and toppings for when they taste the finished product.
Students could also do some research to find out what the difference is between sourdough and conventional bread.
ContributorsMary R. Hebrank, Project and Lesson/Activity Consultant, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University
Copyright© 2004 by Engineering K-Ph.D. Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University
including copyrighted works from other educational institutions and/or U.S. government agencies; all rights reserved.
Supporting Program (Return to Contents)Engineering K-Ph.D. Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University
Last Modified: December 11, 2013