Fascination with Fluctuation: Luria and Delbrück’s Legacy

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While Luria and Delbrück’s seminal work has found its way to some college biology textbooks, it is now largely absent from those in mathematics. This is a significant omission, and we consider it a missed opportunity to present a celebrated conceptual model that provides an authentic and, in many ways, intuitive example of the quantifiable nature of stochasticity. We argue that it is an important topic that could enrich the educational literature in mathematics, from the introductory to advanced levels, opening many doors to undergraduate research. The paper has two main parts. First, we present in detail the mathematical theory behind the Luria–Delbrück model and make suggestions for further readings from the literature. We also give ideas for inclusion in various mathematics courses and for projects that can be used in regular courses, independent projects, or as starting points for student research. Second, we briefly review available hands-on activities as pedagogical ways to facilitate problem posing, problem-based learning, and investigative case-based learning and to expose students to experiments leading to Poisson distributions. These help students with even limited mathematics backgrounds understand the significance of Luria–Delbrück’s work for determining mutation rates and its impact on many fields, including cancer chemotherapy, antibiotic resistance, radiation, and environmental screening for mutagens and teratogens.
This article was originally published in Axioms. The version of record is available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/axioms12030280. © 2023 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.
Luria–Delbrück, fluctuation test, stochastic models, mutation rates, Poisson distribution, mathematics education, simulations and manipulatives, laboratory exercises, problem-based learning, Darwinism vs. Lamarckism
Robeva, Raina S., and John R. Jungck. 2023. "Fascination with Fluctuation: Luria and Delbrück’s Legacy" Axioms 12, no. 3: 280. https://doi.org/10.3390/axioms12030280