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Toa Payoh Vets
19 May 2008

Commnity Education for first-time pet owners and animal lovers --- sponsored by and
Update: May 19, 2008.

Learning Biology at the Singapore Zoo -
Two Gametes forms A Zygote

Written Oct 14, 2001

"It is so boring, I don't want to go to the Zoo another Sunday morning," said Jason a Secondary One student. "The Singapore Zoological Gardens can't be having new exhibits like the White Tigers every Sunday." 

The 13-year old boy was now taller than his mother and soon wouldl be taller than daddy. He was not brought up to appreciate wild life and animals. Most Singaporean pre-teens and teenagers in 2001 had little contact with wildlife or visit the Zoo, in my observation.  

Singapore white Bengal tigers on a Sunday October 2001 morning 9 a.m
Two white tigers team up and relaxing on a cool October 9a.m Sunday morning. The other one had a nap further to the right. "Two's a company, three's a crowd"  it seems.

"Mum and you go inside the Zoo while I wait outside," said the rebellious Jason. 

The tram ride was his idea of seeing all the animals at the zoo at the shortest possible time during the previous visit 3 Sundays ago.

Nature does not appeal to him although he is a close observer of issues affecting his health. "Will I die?" he would ask Mummy when he had some cuts two years ago.  

We were "Friends of the Zoo". Last year, we visited the Zoo once although we could visit the Zoo more times, with the benefits of free entry for a family of four and free car parking.

Elder brother Daniel, a Secondary Three student, was two years older and did not mind going to the Zoo for breakfast on a Sunday morning. Recently he had attended an "enrichment class" on life sciences.  The lecture was on DNA.

Fine cool Sunday morning at 9 a.m is the best time to visit the zoo
These white tigers did not have blue eyes as seen from afar.

"What is DNA?" I asked him.  
"Don't recall."
"What is a chromosome?" I asked. 
"No idea," Daniel replied.
"What is a nucleus?" I asked.  
"Don't know."
"How many chromosomes are there in a human cell?" I hope to spark his interest in biology at the Singapore Zoo so that he would become a doctor when he grew up. 

"A few hundred." Daniel said.  "Two gametes form a zygote" he continued.  That was the part he remembered from the lecture. 

"What is a gamete?" I asked.
"Can't define this term." he ate his French fries.

A Secondary Three student in Singapore would be bombarded with so many subjects to learn in addition to extra curricular activities like the National Cadet Corps.  It is a wonder if he even passes his all 8 subjects at the examination. 

No point burdening him more with lectures. 

"Let's look for the orange tiger," I suggested.  None was found on this October 2001.  Three white Bengal tigers were exhibited where the orange tigers used to be.  

"What's happened to the orange tigers?" I asked the zoo people.  Apparently they had relocated to the Night Safari. 

Hoping to revive interest in biology, I asked Daniel: "What will be the colours of the cubs if you mate a white tiger with an orange one?" 

"If you are lucky, you get some white tiger cubs," said Daniel.

"Will you get white tiger cubs if you mate two orange tigers?" I asked him.   

"No," Daniel replied.  He could not elaborate further.

"Will you get white tiger cubs if you mate two white tigers?" I asked him.

"Yes," Daniel replied. "Something to do with dominance."   Sometimes I wonder how he could pass his Biology examinations without understanding the fundamentals.  The foundation of Biology is weak and parents blame the poor quality of teaching from the high turnover of teachers in many schools.

The teachers probably blame the poor quality of students. After all, top students don't study Biology.  I wanted Daniel to study Biology and his teachers were surprised as he was eligible for the Pure Science classes reserved for better students and discouraged him from studying in the Biology class.

The technical terms like are new and hard for a pre-teen to understand or imagine.   

"DNA's structure is a double helix" according to Daniel's 4-page enrichment notes.
"What is the meaning of helix?" I asked him.
"I don't know."

You don't see helixes in real life.  Neither do you see gametes or zygotes.

"Gametes are sex cells," I explained to Daniel.  "They are either the sperm or the egg.  Each human gamete contains 23 chromosomes. When the sperm fertilizes the egg and form a zygote, the zygote will have 46 chromosomes.  The zygote will divide into two cells which will divide again to form the heart, lungs, brain and various organs of the body of a person."

Interesting but so what?

"The chromosomes are found in the nucleus of the cell.  Each chromosome will be made up of 2 strands of a ladder-like DNA which contains the genes." I said.   "Instead of the 2 straight two ends of a ladder, the strands are twisted around each other left to right and right to left in a long chain.  Such a structure is called a double helix." I doubt if Daniel knows what the helical structure is, just by words of description.  

 "Why is the tiger white coated?" I asked as we saw 3 white tigers relaxing above a moat at 9 a.m. on a cool September 2001 Sunday morning looking at the large crowd of children from a Utilities Board family gathering and tourists.   There were some explanatory notes on a plaque but Daniel did not bother to read them. How does a parent motivate a child to love Biology when the parent does not know much about the technical terms too? 
I told Daniel. "The gamete contains two genes, one from each parent. One of the genes produce a  white coat if there are two of them. If there are two of the orange coat producing genes, an orange tiger cub will be produced.

Easier to say than to understand as genes cannot be seen.

"What if the zygote has a gene for white coat and one for orange coat?"

Daniel asked.  "Do we get half orange and half white tigers?"  

Mum was stumped as she had never studied genetics.

"Orange tiger cubs will be produced. This is because the gene for orange coat is the dominant gene and such zygotes can only produce orange coated tigers."

This was a Sunday bonding with family. I did not want to lecture further. I only hope Daniel would show a keen interest in acquiring knowledge in biology not so much as to pass examinations. 

 White Tiger at the Singapore Zoological Gardens : Sep 2001

A natural interest in biology opens a whole new world of how to live a healthy life, to enjoy a high quality of life money can't buy and to be kind to pets and every living creature and plant in this earth. 

This is again hard to explain in writing. It must be very tough for the ordinary teacher to lecture on the double helix DNA with four protein bases, gene, gametes, zygote, chromosomes, chromatids, enzymes, mitochondria, nucleus, cytoplasm organelles, meiosis, mitosis and reticulated endoplasm to disinterested 13-year old boys not so motivated to be interested in Biology. Mendelian genetics would be interesting if the boys could have hands on experience in plant breeding. 

White Bengal Tiger at Singapore Zoological Gardens Oct 2001
There is always no time in the school curriculum for hands-on learning as compared to text-book instruction.

It must be tough for the average pre-teen to excel in Biology or life sciences as most of them don't seem to have a passion or motivation in their daily living. If teachers can use Pokemon cards trading and computer gaming to teach, more male students will be highly motivated to learn. 

P.S. Update in 2008.
Digital pictures taken of the White Tigers at the Singapore Zoo  by Dr Sing in 2001 shown here are not up to standard. The mum worries still and hopes that Daniel will pass his veterinary examinations. As for Jason, he is in National Service Full Time. 

Be Kind To Pets - SingaporeBe Kind To Pets educational stories for pet lovers. Telephone +65 9668 6468, 
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