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Grade Level: High School

Looking at the history of corn, a great story can be told about how people saved seeds and selected for specific traits to turn teosinte into the modern corn plant that we have today. This lab will enable students to use equipment that is not made available to very many. With the use of a Polymarese Chain Reaction (PCR) machine, students will start to see one of the final steps of identifying what a genetically modified organism is and what foods they consume today that contain a GMO. This lab can end the series of all biotechnology Seed to STEM labs, which enables a teacher to teach the science behind a genetically modified organization throughout the school year. GMO or GM-NO can provide a finale to these series of lessons.

Instruction Video for Teachers


Teaching the Lesson

Kansas College and Career Ready Standards


  • HS-LS1-1. Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the structure of DNA determines the structure of proteins which carry out the essential functions of life through systems of specialized cells.
  • HS-LS2-6. Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.
  • HS-LS2-7. Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.
  • HS-LS3-1. Ask questions to clarify relationships about the role of DNA and chromosomes in coding the instructions for characteristic traits passed from parents to offspring.
  • HS-LS4-1. Communicate scientific information that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence.
  • HS-LS4-4. Construct an explanation based on evidence for how natural selection leads to adaptation of populations.

Language Arts (Common Core)

  • RST.11-12.1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to important distinctions the author makes and to any gaps or inconsistencies in the account.
  • WHST.9-12.2. Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
  • WHST.9-12.9. Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • SL.11-12.5. Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the basic structure of DNA and its role in genetic inheritance.
  • Comprehend how DNA encodes traits that are passed across generations.
  • Understand what a genetically engineered or genetically modified organism (GMO) is.
  • Understand that PCR is a technique for amplifying specific parts of the genome.
  • Understand that seed selection and breeding can be used to alter traits in crops.
  • Understand how genetic engineering can be used to alter existing traits or introduce novel traits in crops in a faster and more targeted fashion.
  • Discuss implications of genetically engineered plants for society.


Graduates of the Seed to STEM 2.0 High School track can request supplies to teach lab for free.

  • MiniPCR GMO Learning Lab: Heart-Shaped Bananas
  • MiniONE Gel Electrophoresis
  • MiniONE PCR Machine

Safety Considerations

Be aware of student allergies or seeds treated with chemicals.

Procedures for Instruction

Length of Time for Preparation: 20 minutes
Length of Time for Classroom Teaching: 90 minutes

Preparation Procedure

See preparation pages 11-13 from MiniPCR GMO Lab Instructor’s Guide.

Background Information

Pages 2-5 of the MiniPCR Lab Guide provides background information. Also, rely on previous Seed to STEM biotechnology labs for additional background information.

Classroom Discussion

Introduce the topic and assess students for prior understanding. See page 15 questions in Student MiniPCR Lab

Guide to ask the following questions.

  • How does genetic diversity of plants arise through natural selection?
  • How and why do humans selectively breed crops?
  • What is a GMO?
  • How can new genes be introduced into a plant?
  • Does the introduction of new genes into an organism ever occur in nature?


The MiniPCR GMO Lab procedure will be used with the following alterations of instructions from the miniPCR GMO Lab procedure.

  • On page 3, Corn Crop Transgenic Modified – 85%, the data table shows the percentage of specific crops that are transgenic. The table emphasizes corn, and that is what this lab will specifically be testing for as a transgenic food item.
  • On page 4, Creating a GMO Product using Ti Plasmid [CaMV35S promotor/Transgene/NOSTerminator], there is an explanation of how the specific GMO cassette that we are going to attempt to test for is constructed in order to create a transgenic plant. We will be targeting the 35S promotor and the positive plant control (Tubulin) for this lab.
  • On page 5, Explanation of the PCR and Electrophoresis Lab, we will follow these instructions to determine if common food items have been genetically modified, and this section will demonstrate how this complete lab will detect a GMO food.
  • On page 6 (recommended foods to test: corn tortillas, tortilla chips, Doritos, Cheetos), we will specifically attempt to test just the corn products listed in that table.
  • On pages 7-8, DNA Extraction Procedure, we will follow that exact procedure on DNA extraction from the selected food items being tested.
  • On pages 8-9, Setting up the PCR Reactions, we will follow the directions to set up the PCR reactions.
  • On pages 10-11, Setting up and Running the PCR Machine, we will follow the directions for setting up the MiniOne PCR machine (on pages 18-19 of the PDF) instead of the instructions for miniPCR listed on those pages.
  • On page 12, Setting up and Running the Gel Electrophoresis, we will follow these exact instructions. Also, we will be using a 2.0% gel instead of the 2.4% gel the procedure calls for.
  • On page 13, Photographing and Interpreting the Gel, we will follow this procedure to get an image of the completed gel and how to interpret the gel.
  • On pages 15-17, Lab Questions and Extension Activities, we will be using the Lab Report Extension to assess what the students have learned from completing this lab activity.

Teacher Resources

Lab Analysis

See pages 12-14 of the miniPCR GMO Lab instructions to determine if you have detected any GMOs in the foods tested.


Reflection and Conclusion

See pages 16-17 of the miniPCR GMO Lab instructions and answer the following questions.

  • What do the results suggest about your test foods?
    • Do they contain genetically engineered sequences?
    • Do they not?
  • Are your results consistent with your expectations about these foods?
    • Are you a regular eater of these foods?
  • Do you know the purpose of the genetic modification(s) you have detected?
    • Describe two transgenes that are commonly introduced into crops.
  • Describe three ways in which genetically engineered crops may protect the environment.
    • Describe three ways in which they may harm the environment.
    • How do you think growing GMOs can accelerate the selection of herbicide-resistant weeds?
  • Describe three ways in which human health may be improved by GMOs.
    • How can they aid in nutrition?
    • How can they help feed a growing human population?
    • What might be the risks to manage?
  • Pollen contains the complete genetic material of the plant and is airborne. Describe ways in which the spread of transgenes via pollen can be contained.

Extension Activity

There are only 10 GMO crops available in the United States today. Can the students name them? Corn, Soybeans, Cotton, Canola, Alfalfa, Sugar Beets, Papaya, Squash, Potato, and Apple.

Food companies use labels on food to help market their products. Non-GMO labels are becoming common to help market food to consumer who are afraid of GMOs. Yet, many of these labeled food products were not made from foods that have a GMO variety.

Have students visit their local grocery store or have them look through their kitchen cabinets at home. Have them write down a list of 10 food products that are labeled as non-GMO. Have the students discuss their findings as a group.

  • Were these products made from one of the 10 GMO crops available in the United States?
  • It is appropriate to have the non-GMO label?
  • Which products that do have a non-GMO label were made from a crop that has a GMO variety?


To assess learning, the students will follow the extension instructions on page 17 of the miniPCR GMO lab instructions.

Lab Report – report on the findings of the written lab.

  • Title
  • Introduction
  • Materials
  • Procedure
  • Results
  • Discussion

Science and Agriculture Careers

To learn more about agriculture careers, visit  You can also find career profiles at


MiniPCR GMO Learning Lab: Heart-Shaped Bananas


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, 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.

About Kansas Corn STEM

Investing in Kansas teachers and students is a priority for the Kansas Corn Commission. We are committed to providing materials and training to support STEM education while fostering an understanding of how corn farming and agriculture fit into our daily lives. Professional development workshops are offered to teachers seeking to expand their knowledge and inquiry-based teaching skills. Workshop participants receive free lab supplies needed for the lessons.

Workshop Info

This lesson is the work product of the Kansas Corn Commission. Our lessons are written in collaboration with Kansas teachers for use in the classroom. Teachers may copy and share this curriculum. Use of this product for commercial or promotional use is prohibited without express permission of Kansas Corn.

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