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Genetic Modified Information?

Grade Levels: Middle School,High School

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.

Teaching the Lesson

Kansas College and Career Ready Standards


  • HS-LS1-1: Construct and 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-LS3-1: Ask questions to clarify relationship about the role of DNA and chromosomes in coding the instructions for characteristic traits passed from parents to offspring.
  • HS-LS3-2: Make and defend a claim based on evidence that inheritable genetic variations may result from (1) new genetic combinations through meiosis, (2) variable errors occurring during replication, and/or (3) mutations caused by environmental factors.
  • HS-LS3-3: Apply concepts of statistics and probability to explain the variation and distribution of expressed traits in a population.
  • HS-ETS1-1: Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
  • HS-ETS1-2: Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller more manageable problems.

Language Arts

  • RST.11-12.1: Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.
  • WHST.9-12.1: Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to define genetically modified and explain some of the history behind the term.
  • Students will be able to describe multiple practices used in the creation of new breeds of plants.
  • Students will be able to distinguish the difference between genetic engineering practices and traditional breeding methods.
  • Students will be able to describe the process of creating transgenic organisms.


Materials for Classroom Discussion:

  • Computer and internet access to access Jimmy Kimmel video
  • Jimmy Kimmel video on GMOs – What’s a GMO
  • Large Post-it Notes, white boards, or poster paper
  • Markers of various colors

Materials for GMO Graphic Organizer:

Background Information

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. 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. ( is a virtual one stop shop of information for both teachers and students.

Another fantastic resource is  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.

Classroom Discussion

  • Watch the Jimmy Kimmel video on GMOs – What’s a GMO
  • So what does “GMO” mean?  Even if you know what the letters stand for, do you really know what it means?
  • Hand out the What is a GMO Student Sheet.
    • Make sure you are guiding students through this activity but not influencing their definitions. Students will want to know, “What is the right answer?”, but there is no right or wrong answer. Whatever definition they come up with together is correct!
    • Have students individually define the phrase “Genetically Modified Organism”. Encourage them to also use examples to clarify their points.
    • Have students pair up or get into small groups of two or three others.  Each group will need a large white board or poster-sized Post-it Note and a writing utensil.
    • Compare individual definitions; have students underline any parts of their individual definitions that the other members of their groups also have (these could be words, phrases, or even examples).
    • Ask students to examine the differences they see in their definitions (all of the non-underline parts) Ask the groups the following questions:
      • Why did feel like you needed to include these words or phrases?
      • Are these parts critically important or can they be eliminated from the definition?
  • Breaking it down: What does the letters GMO really mean?
    • Look at the meaning of each word independently…
      • Genetic: referring to genes or DNA
      • Modification: changing from an original
      • Organism: any living thing including animals, plants, bacteria, fungi, etc.
    • Now add all of these definitions together:  Changing a living thing’s original genes or DNA.

Procedure for Lab

Length of Time for Preparation:

  • 5 minutes (copying and opening presentations)

Length of Time for Classroom Teaching: 1-2 days classroom work

  • 2 45-minute class periods, or 1 90-minutes class period

Procedure for Lab

Students will be analyzing different methods of creating new breeds of crops, both through traditional means and through genetic engineering.

GMO or Non-GMO

  1. Place all of the Breeding and Domestication Graphic Organizer Cards on the table.  Allow five to six minutes for students to read through the cards and ask any questions of clarification if necessary before you proceed.
  2. Using the operational definition for GMO, have students divide the breeding methods into two groups – GMO and Non-GMO.
  3. At this point there is really no right or wrong answer, students should us the criteria in the definition to help them group the breeding methods.  Teachers can provide leading questions such as “So how is DNA changed?” or “Does it matter what changes the DNA?” to guide students.
  4. Once all students are finished grouping their cards, have a student or pair share out their results.  You can use an overhead projector to show how the students have grouped their cards.
  5. Ask students if anyone had any different arrangements.  Make any needed changes, then specifically ask the students why they feel those changes are needed.
  6. Show students the History of Genetic Modification in Crops slide on the PowerPoint (or a printed version of the slide).  Pay close attention to the dates and emphasize this is a timeline.  Ask students the following questions:
    • When did we start the domestication of crops?
    • Which breeding method card do you think matches with domestication?
  7. Then have students continue to try and place all of the other cards in order on their diagram or desk.
  8. Allow students to see some of the ancestral fruits that are commonly used foodstuffs today on Slide 10 of the PowerPoint.  Ask students the following questions:
    • What differences do you see in these fruits in comparison to their modern day counterparts?
    • How would we have changes these fruits?
  9. Ask students the following questions:
    • When did we start choosing the genes in our crops?
    • So… Would that change any of your card placements from before?
  10. Explain to students that all of the methods would meet our operational definition of a GMO.

Traditional vs. Genetic Engineering

  1. Use the PowerPoint to show students the difference between traditional and genetic engineering breeding practices (Slide 13).
  2. Review with students that specific segments of DNA code for different proteins, known as “segments of DNA genes.
  3. Remind students the orange genes (spheres) represent the genes for the favorable traits we want to see in our crops. The green genes are those already present in the crop species.
  4. Explain to students that traditional breeding includes incorporating half of the traits from the organism that has the desired trait, but not necessarily the desired trait itself.  The combination of genes is completely random in sexually reproducing species.  Just because you have isolated a specific gene as the one you want, does not mean it will be found in the offspring of any one cross of two individual parents.  It may take thousands of crosses before the desired trait is confirmed into the organism.
  5. Explain to students that on the other hand, genetic engineering isolates the one gene from the original organism that possessed a specific trait naturally.  We then insert that one gene into the crop.  This means only one gene is moved and only one gene will be seen in the crop organism.
  6. Tell students, “Now look at the breeding method cards again, and group the methods into two groups – traditional and genetic engineering.”
  7. Give the students four to five minutes  to analyze the cards again.  Remember, at this point, there is no right or wrong answer.  Provide leading questions if necessary, for example:
    • How many genes are moved in the traditional methods?
    • How does sexual reproduction figure into the mix?
  8. Show the students the traditional vs. genetic engineering slide (Slide 13 in the PowerPoint), or show them a grouping with Simple Selection, Selective Breeding, Interspecies Crosses, and Mutagenesis as a traditional group, and Transgenesis and Genome Editing in the Genetic Engineering group.
  9. Ask students, “What is the one feature that separates these two groupings?” They should be able to isolate the difference between the number of genes being altered.  Traditional is many, while genetic engineering is only one or a few.
  10. Make sure to highlight that many individuals in the public often confuse the terms “genetically engineered” and “genetically modified”.  There is a big difference, and this is the source of many individual’s misconceptions about GMOs. Not every GMO has genes from other organisms, transgenic organisms do, but not those created through selective breeding or mutagenesis.
  11. Apply the definitions to the infographic Get to Know GMOs.  Either by having a printed copy or by using the PowerPoint,  ask students the following questions:
    • Where would you divide these groups?
    • What would be traditional and what would be genetically engineered?

Hopefully students will be able to discern that transgenesis is different than the others.

Transgenesis: Speed Dating

  1. Review the definition of “transgenesis”. Based on the criteria from before, this method is classified as genetic engineering. One gene that conveys a beneficial trait is taken from the genome of an organism and inserted into the genome of a crop.
  2. Hand out one Transgenic Speed Dating Cards to each individual. Make sure the cards handed out will match together (e.g. donors and recipients). You can use the teacher’s guide to eliminate pairs so you have exactly the correct number of cards for the number of students you have. Some cards can be paired up in groups.
  3. Arrange students in your preferred mode, just make sure it involves movement!
    • Option 1: Students with donor cards sitting, and students with recipient cards standing. Recipients then move from table to table, rotating every 30-60 seconds. Recipients continue moving until they find their corresponding donor.
    • Option 2: An inside outside circle, with students who have donor cards forming the inner circle (facing outwards), while students with recipient cards form the outer circle (facing in towards those with donor cards). Students then rotate every 30-60 seconds until they have found their match. Once a match is found, have students step out of the circle with their partner and wait for further instructions.
    • Option 3: (Mixer Style): Students stand and walk looking for their possible partner or group. Have students mill around the room until they find their match. Once they have found their match, students should move to the exterior portions of the room.
  4. Once students have found their pair/match have them go through the reflection questions on their own copy of the What is a GMO Student Sheet and provide answers. Then write down their specific pair/match on a large sheet of poster paper, or a large Post-it Note, to post for a gallery walk.
  5. After students have completed their individual analysis, complete a gallery walk where each student views the poster of the other groups. Allow students 10-15 minutes to complete the gallery walk. Students can now finish the last two questions on their reflection sheet. Ask two to three students to share about their most surprising pairings.
  6. Show students the timeline of the steps required to create a transgenic crop, Infographic: Lifecycle of a GMO. Also show students the graphic of the transgenic crops on the market now.
  7. Finally, review where genetic engineering is going in the future. In the PowerPoint, review the slide (Slide 21) about genome editing and the potential impacts on our definition of GMO.

Teacher Resources

Resources are coming soon.  Until then if you have questions email us at

Reflection and Conclusion

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:

Science and Agriculture Careers

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.

To learn more about agriculture careers visit You can also find career profiles at Careers in Corn.



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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.

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