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Science Lesson Plan: What are Genetically Modified Organisms?

written by: Jason Howe • edited by: Carly Stockwell • updated: 4/19/2013

Did you know that humans can combine DNA of two or more organisms to create brand new organisms? Did you know that some of the food you eat may come from other organisms that you have no idea about? Next time you eat an orange, think about it. It might not be JUST an orange you are eating!

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    Orange What are genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) and why are they causing so much controversy?

    Lesson Objectives: Students will identify the steps of genetically modifying an organism. They will also learn advantages and disadvantages of GMO’s and why they are causing so much controversy. The following New York State Living Environment performance indicators and standards will be addressed:

    2.2b In recent years new varieties of farm plants and animals have been engineered by manipulating their genetic instructions to produce new characteristics.

    2.2c Different enzymes can be used to cut, copy, and move segments of DNA. Characteristics produced by the segments of DNA may be expressed when these segments are inserted into new organisms, such as bacteria.

    2.2d Inserting, deleting, or substituting DNA segments can alter genes. An altered genemay be passed on to every cell that develops from it.

    Materials Required: Possible computer availability, Poster paper, crayons and markers, possible video camera availability.

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    Genetic Engineering: What are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)?

    Note: Students will need to have background knowledge of DNA structure and function and basic understanding of classical genetics. Students will follow the outline found on the next page.

    I. What are Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s)?

    GMO’s are organisms that have had their DNA changed in a laboratory.

    II. How does this work?

    A. Started with bacteria. Bacteria have simple DNA that is easy to change.

    B. Steps of process:

    1. Find the gene that you want to insert into the bacterial DNA. Cut that gene out using a restriction enzyme (like molecular scissors).

    2. Cut open the bacterial DNA plasmid (circular DNA) with the same restriction enzyme.

    3. Insert the gene you want into the bacterial DNA and close up the loop using a ligase enzyme (like molecular glue).

    4. When the bacteria reproduces, all the offspring will have a copy of that gene and hence will be genetically modified or changed!

    C. Common Uses:

    1. Making copies of genes for useful human compounds that are usually produced naturally, such as insulin and human growth hormone. Some people have disorders where they cannot produce these substances naturally.

    2. Modifying food that we eat. For example, fruit that stays riper longer. Also, inserting genes for disease resistance or genes that kill insects that eat the crops. This could allow for more food being made and could feed more people.

    D. Diagram

    III. Controversy

    A. Many foods that we eat now come from genetically modified organisms. There has been little to no testing on possible side effects of this process.

    B. Companies in the United States are not required to put labels on food products containing GMO’s so there is no way of knowing if the food you eat contains them or not.


    IV. Student project. Choose one of the following to complete to show you understand what GMO’s are all about. Be sure to include websites and other resources used in your presentation of the project.

    A. Write an editorial article for a newspaper, either: 1) discussing the advantages of GMO’s and why you agree with using them, or 2) discussing the disadvantages, and why you think they should be banned in this country.

    B. Invent a food product that could be created to somehow benefit humans that involves genetically modifying at least one organism. Create an advertisement either 1) on a poster or 2) using a video camera. Explain how this product will be created using genetic engineering practices and give detailed reasons why people should buy your product.