experimentAP Biology Labs

The AP college board lists 13 labs for its recommended curriculum, summarized in the publication, AP Biology Investigative Labs. However, teachers are not limited to only using their versions of the lab. AP biology teachers submit a curriculum for review and approval and must include laboratory exercises that align with their core ideas. Some of the recommended labs may be too expensive or too time consuming for your class. Listed below are some alternatives that may be acceptable as part of your overall biology curriculum.

Big Idea Recommended Lab
(AP Biology)
Possible Alternatives Notes


Evolution drives the diversity and unity of life. Supported by evidence from many scientific disciplines, Darwin’s theory of evolution states that heritable variations occur in individuals in a population; because of competition for resources, individuals with more favorable phenotypes are more likely to survive and reproduce, thus passing traits to offspring.


Investigaton 1:
Artificial Selection

"Can extreme selection change expression of a quantitative trait in a population in one generation?"

Grow Fast Plants for 1-2 generations, quantify traits and select parents for next generation


Evolution Lab - simulation showing how organisms evolve over time in response to environmental conditions

Natural Selection at PHET - another simulation showing wolf and rabbit populations

Sex and the Single Guppy - simulation that examines sexual selection (flash documents no longer work with most browsers)

Case Study: "I'm Looking Over a White-Striped Clover" - an investiation of clover adaptations

Evolution of the Origami Bird - this uses a paper model that flies, coin flips represent variations in wing position and length

Fast Plants are easy to grow, and Fastplants.org has many hints and suggestions for cheaply growing the plants

Simulations and Case Studies can be performed outside of class

test tube

Investigaton 2:
Mathematical Modeling: Hardy Weinberg

"How can mathematical models be used to investigate the relationship between allele frequencies in populations of organisms and evolutionary change?"

Hardy Weinberg Presentation &
Hardy Weingberg Problem Set

Count individuals and use the HW equation to determine allele frequences

Hardy Weinberg Simulation - uses beads to represent alleles, track changes in generations using students as "parents"

Hardy Weinberg and Rock Pocket Mouse - use real data to analzye how allele frequencies change in a population

Teddy Graham Lab - sad and happy teddy graham can be used to gather data and analye allele frequencies

AP Lab uses a spreadsheet to model allele frequencies, the data input instructions are very involved, but can be a way to introduce students to spreadsheets

Hardy Weinberg equation is included on the AP Test, students do not need to memorize it, but they should know how to use it

Investigation 3:
Comparing DNA Sequences to Understand Evolutionary Relationshipswith BLAST

How can bioinformatics be used as a tool to determine evolutionary relationships and to better understand genetic diseases?

Bacterial ID Lab at HHMI - this includes a BLAST section and a simulation of isolated and identifying bacteria using PCR amplification

Name That Gene - using blast, identify genes using DNA sequences

Constructing a Cladogram - drawings are used to infer relationships and create a cladogram

Cladogram Analysis -image of a cladogram of arthropods where students determine derived characteristics and create their own cladogram

Examining the Fossil Record - fossils are arranged on a poster to show how each are related and how speciation can occur

Are Bats Birds? - short version using protein sequences from Uniprot to creaty phylogenies

Using BLAST can be time consuming, though much of the lab can be performed outside of class

Students should definitely know how to analyze a cladogram before taking the AP Biology Test


Cellular Processes

Biological systems utilize free energy and molecular building blocks to grow, reproduce, and maintain dynamic homeostasis.

Organisms have evolved various strategies to capture, use, and store free energy and other vital resources.

Investigation 4: Diffusion and Osmosis

What causes plants to wilt if they are not watered?


Diffusion and Osmosis - a modified version of the lab, measure mass change in sucrose dialysis tubes and calculate water potential

Diffusion Lab - very simple observation lab that shows the movement of iodine through a bag, using cornstarch as an indicator

Salt and Elodea Cells - observe how cells change when soaked in a hypertonic solution


This lab requires some set-up with dialysis tubes and sucrose solutions

Diffusion lab is very basic and may only be appropriate for pre-AP classes or as a demonstrationosmosis


Investigation 5: Photosynthesis

What factors affect the rate of photosynthesis in living leaves?

Photosynthesis Simulation - change light intensity and wavelenght and compare the amount of ATP produced

Waterweed Simulator - Adjust light and CO2 levels, measure photosynthesis by counting bubbles

Rate of Photosynthesis – using baking soda, elodea and light, measure the bubbles to observe how fast a plant photosynthesizes and releases oxygen

Investigation: Photosynthesis - this lab uses leaf disks that float to indicate photosynthesis.  Students investigate factors that affect photosynthesis.  - modified AP Lab

Investigation 6: Cellular Respiration

What factors affect the rate of cellular respiration in multicellular organisms?

Virtual Lab: Cellular Respiration - a step-through activity that mirrors the procedure of the investigation

Cellular Respiration - modified AP lab, uses respirometers to measure oxygen consumption

This lab requires equipment that may be hard to obtain or create. You can order respirometer and lab kits from Carolina

Genetics and Information Transfer

Genetic information provides for continuity of life, and, in most cases, this information is passed from parent to offspring via DNA. In eukaryotic organisms, heritable information is packed into chromosomes that are passed to daughter cells by mitosis, a controlled mechanism that ensures that each daughter cell receives an identical and complete complement of chromosomes.

Investigation 7:
Cell Division: Mitosis and Meiosis

How do eukaryotic cells divide to produce genetically identical cells or to produce gametes with half the normal DNA?

Part 1) Modeling Mitosis
Part 2) Effects of Environment on Mitosis
Part 3) Loss of Cell Cycle Control in Cancer
Part 4) Modeling Meiosis
Part 5) Meiosis and Crossing Over

Mitosis Internet Lesson-
Meiosis Internet Lesson - use various sites to observe models of mitosis and meiosis

Mitosis in an Onion Root - view slides and count the number of cells visible in each stage

The Case of the Dividing Cell - case study where students learn stages of mitosis and meiosis, prokaryote versus eukaryote

Modeling Chromosomal Inheritance - using beads and pipe cleaners to show how genes are passed from parents to offspring

Linkage Group Simulation - pipecleaners are used to model crossing over

Investigation: Mitosis - look at slides and real data from a cancer study to explore the role of P53 in the cell cycle

Many of the activities listed in the investigation can be performed as classroom discussions, lectures, and animations.


Investigation 8:
Biotechnology: Bacterial Transformation

How can we use genetic engineering techniques to manipulate heritable information

Transgenic Fly Virtual Lab - HHMI uses a virtual lab to insert DNA into flies which are used to study circadian rhythms

Bacteria Lab - introduces bacteria, agar, culturing and staining

Torn at the Genes - case study on GM foods

Recombinant DNA Simulation - using paper to model how restriction enzymes can be used to modify DNA

Bacterial Transformation kits can be purchased from Carolina


Investigation 9:
Biotechnology: Restriction Enzyme Analysis of DNA

How can we use genetic information to to identify and profile individual?

DMD Electrophoresis Lab - uses electrophoresis to analyze DNA samples from a family to determine who are carries of duchenne muscular dystrophy

DNA Extraction - extract DNA from a strawberry

Electrophoresis equipment is expensive, local colleges and universities may be willing to loan you equipment

DNA extractions are simple and require very little equipment


Living systems from cells to ecosystems require free energy and matter to maintain order, grow, and reproduce, with organisms using various strategies to capture, use, and store free energy and other resources.

Investigation 10:
Energy Dynamics

What factors govern energy capture, allocation, storage, and transfer between producers and consumers in a terrestrial ecosystem?

Build an Ecosystem - grown plants and snails in jars and record changes in levels of CO2 by using btb as an indicator

Virtual Lab: Population Biology - observe the competitive exclusion principle in populations of paramecium

Where do Plants Get Their Food? - investigate ways to measure biomass and plant growth using bean seedlings

Bottle Biology - using 2 liter bottles, investigate factors that affect ecosystems

Case Study - The Fish Kill Mystery - investigate what may have caused a fish kill, explore excess nutrients and life cycles of microorganisms

Case Study - The Gulf's Dead Zone - presentation case that presents information and asks students to evaluate, analyze and make recommendations

The basics of this experiment include growing plants and animals together and then measuring the biomass of the plants. This experiment is a long term investigation and requires space and maintenance.


Investigation 11:

What factors, including environmental variables affect the rate of transpiration in plants?

AP Lab - Transpiration - using seedlings and plastic bags, measure the rate at which water is lost in different conditions The whole plant method in the Lab Guide may be a simpler way to complete this requirement, also using bags, strings and a seedling

Investigation 12:
Fruit Fly Behavior

What environmental factors trigger a fruit fly response?

Isopod Behavior Lab - uses ispods (rollypollys) to investigate animal behavior

Daphnia Heart Rate Lab - expose crustaceans to chemicals and measure responses

This lab is simple and fun for the students, very little background information is needed to complete it and may be a good beginning of the year experiment

Investigation 13:
Enzyme Activity

How do abiotic or biotic factors influence the rates of enzymatic reactions?

Enzyme Lab - Using liver and hydrogen peroxide, observe enzyme actions in a variety of conditions (temperature, acidity)

Enzyme Investigation on Substrate Concentrations - use yeast to create a catalase solution. Filter paper soaked in this solution will sink and then float in hydrogen peroxide as a measure of the rate of oxygen being produced

This lab may fit better during the cell unit when discussiong organic molcules