Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) are defined in a myriad of different ways, and there is much debate around the world about what the phrase actually means. During this lab, students will determine the importance of operational definitions by collaboratively coming to agreement on a class definition, making sure everyone is operating on the same page. Students will then explore the various types of conventional breeding methods, as well as those considered genetically engineered and genetically altered. By learning more about each method of alteration, students will create a graphic organizer showing similarities and differences between and among the different methods. One method of genetic modification has become especially controversial, the creation of transgenic organisms. Students will do a little speed dating by looking at different genes as they are transferred from one donor organism to another, conveying important traits along the way.
One of the most critical parts of teaching any controversial issue is making sure you have all your facts straight the first time. Finding resources that are impartial and relevant are critically important in that process. Inevitably, students will come up with questions you do not have the answers for, and as teachers we must have trusted resources to send our students to for further research and clarification purposes. Just as we would not begin teaching a unit in cells without any prior knowledge of what a cell is, as good teachers we can not provide our students with flawed or outdated information. In a field, such as Genetic Engineering, where new innovations are constantly occurring, staying current is equally important. The following resources are great at providing background and further clarification of the processes involved in genetic modification, as well as the current and past practices being implemented in the plant breeding fields. Please review these sources before you begin your unit.
GMOanswers.com is a great reference source for everything from infographics to current statistics of GMOs. On their site, questions are answered by professionals in the field of genetic engineering, and the answered questions archived for future viewing. This allows you, and possibly your students, to peruse previously asked questions on the site, as well as ask further questions you both may be having. The site is easy to navigate, and it provides well-framed questions to help focus results for students in a very intuitive way. There is also a plethora of infographic PDF files that can be easily downloaded and turned into station activities as extension or background activities for your students. GMOanswers.com (Bit.ly/GMOanswers-Infographics) is a virtual one stop shop of information for both teachers and students.
Another fantastic resource is Yourgenome.org. This source has some wonderful information about the newly developing field of genome editing. Genome editing is basically a way for scientists to alter the genome of organisms without using genes from other organisms. With the advent of CRISPR-Cas9 technology and TALEN editing, it is critically important to stay up to date. As these are some of the newest forms of genetic engineering techniques, this site provides some valuable insight for both educators and students.
Students will be analyzing different methods of creating new breeds of crops, both through traditional means and through genetic engineering.
Hopefully students will be able to discern that transgenesis is different than the others.
Throughout the steps of this lesson, students will have been given opportunities to explore some of the most critical terms related to the creation and clarification of GMOs. At the end of the lesson students may have more questions related to this area of discussion. In this case, please feel free to refer them to the sources listed in the background of the lab for further research. By allowing students to explore their own questions relative to GMOs, teachers can often ascertain specific gaps in the understanding of the overall process of genetic engineering. This activity is a great precursor to further laboratory work in the both of the following labs:
In order to meet the needs of the world’s growing population, we are faced with the demand of producing higher yields on the same, if not decreasing, amounts of land. One of the most important tools in reaching this goal is genetic modification. We use genetic modification in one form or another to create better quality seeds. Almost all new seed varieties being created today have some level of biotechnology involved in their development. Basic breeding techniques, plant tissue culturing, genomic analysis, and genomic alteration, all rely on a basic understanding of the creation of new varieties of crops, including those utilized in the past and those we foresee in our future. Several different careers in agriculture are fundamental in the development of these new varieties of crops: botanists, horticulturalists, biochemists, biological engineers, climatologist, ecologists, food scientists, geneticist, microbiologists, plant pathologist, and an army of lab technicians are all involved in the development of each and every variety. Additionally, individuals who are involved in any area of agriculture: producers, seed salesmen, senators, the Secretary of Agriculture, agronomists, etc., must be versed in knowing how these new varieties are being created, tested, and grown. This is necessary in order to advocate effectively for the agricultural community and the human population as a whole.
Any educator electing to perform demonstrations is expected to follow NSTA Minimum Safety Practices and Regulations for Demonstrations, Experiments, and Workshops, which are available at http://static.nsta.org/pdfs/MinimumSafetyPracticesAndRegulations.pdf, as well as all school policies and rules and all state and federal laws, regulations, codes and professional standards. Educators are responsible for abiding appropriate legal standards and better professional practices under a duty of care to make laboratories and demonstrations in and out of the classroom as safe as possible. If in doubt, do not perform the demonstrations.
Investing in teachers is a priority therefore the Kansas Corn Commission is committed to providing materials and training to help teachers excel in the classroom. Teachers who seek to expand their knowledge and skill of connecting science with agriculture are encouraged to attend a Seed to STEM workshop.