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What's in Your Genes?

What's in Your Genes?

Unit Summary

Students use their knowledge of biotechnology applications to influence legislation for or against its usage. They study the general concepts of molecular genetics and the technique of developing and analyzing deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) fingerprints through the use of gel electrophoresis. Next, students view the motion picture Gattaca, to see the effects of biotechnology on society. They then conduct more research into possible biotechnology applications. The culminating activities include using the Showing Evidence Tool to develop an argument supporting the use, use with limitations, or disuse of various biotechnology applications within the United States. Finally, in the simulation, students work in groups to develop several “bills” and attempt to persuade a panel of legislators to approve their recommendations.

Curriculum-Framing Questions

  • Essential Question
    Just because we can, should we?
  • Unit Questions
    What is the social responsibility of acquiring scientific knowledge?
    What is the impact of biological discoveries and technological advances on society and on other living organisms?
  • Content Questions
    In what ways is biotechnology being used today?
    How do you produce and analyze a DNA fingerprint using gel electrophoresis?
    How can the components and structure of a DNA molecule be identified?

Assessment Processes

View how a variety of student-centered assessments are used in the What’s in Your Genes? Unit Plan. These assessments help students and teachers set goals; monitor student progress; provide feedback; assess thinking, processes, performances, and products; and reflect on learning throughout the learning cycle.

Instructional Procedures

Introduce the Unit
Begin the unit by writing the Essential Question, Just because we can, should we? on the board for the entire class to read. Present the idea that for every medical science breakthrough, ethical questions are raised. Inform students that they will use a science journal to write notes, make observations, and respond to questions throughout the unit. Have students list their ideas about the Essential Question in their science journals. Next, pose the Unit Questions, What is the social responsibility of acquiring scientific knowledge? and What is the impact of biological discoveries and technological advances on society and on other living things? Have students record their initial thoughts in their journals. Next, pair up students and have them share their ideas with their partners. Follow up with a class discussion and record students’ thoughts on chart paper.

Learning Key Concepts: Lab Investigations
Review the structure of DNA and how DNA replication occurs. Have students conduct investigations of DNA and gel electrophoresis in a lab setting.

Investigate DNA
Tell students they will investigate deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) extraction using kiwi fruit. Guide students through the Kiwi Lab*. This activity allows students to visually spool the DNA from thousands of cells. Discuss what is happening to the kiwi throughout each step of the lab. Link students’ prior knowledge of cells to this unit.

Review the structure of ribonucleic acid (RNA) and how protein synthesis occurs within cells. Demonstrate protein synthesis using models or show a video illustrating this to your students. Guide students as they decode a strand of DNA to a protein.

Ask students to decode at least five phrases in the decoding activity. Provide an example that reminds students of the process of creating an mRNA (messenger RNA) strand from the DNA strand, then creating tRNA (transfer RNA) anticodons from the mRNA codons. Print the two decoding activity handouts on different colored paper so that students sitting next to each other will have different phrases to decode. Then have the students solve the codes on a separate piece of paper showing the DNA strand, mRNA strand, tRNAs, and the decoded phrase.

Examine Gel Electrophoresis
Guide the students through the Dye Gel Electrophoresis Lab* during an extended lab period. Discuss proper protocol involved in the use of gel electrophoresis. Ask students to write their thoughts in their science journals about the following questions:

  • How can the components and structure of a DNA molecule be identified?
  • How do you produce and analyze a DNA fingerprint using gel electrophoresis?

While the gels are running, review the students’ responses to the questions and the main concepts of the lab.

View the Human Genome video called The Secrets of Our Lives as well as the Milestones in Genetics: Timeline, available from The Human Genome Project Kit*. Summarize all of the important events. Next, guide students through the Who’s the Daddy? (Whale Pod) Lab* during an extended lab period. While the gels are running, ask students to answer the questions in the student guide and provide an example of how to analyze the gels to determine the father. Assess the students’ understanding of the main concepts of the unit through a written quiz.

After completing the lab activities, lead a discussion about applications of gel electrophoresis and other forms of biotechnology used today. Investigate real world applications of biotechnology further by viewing the movie Gattaca. Review the requirements of the Gattaca essay with students before viewing the movie. Discuss the essay rubric and answer any questions from the class. Hold a discussion after the movie about the possible effects of biotechnology on society.

Research and Determine a Position on the Use of Biotechnology
Let students know they will be researching and building an argument about uses of biotechnology. Cut the issue cards in fourths to create eight cards—one card for each of the following topics:

  • Reproductive technology
  • Cloning
  • Privacy and confidentiality
  • Patenting genes
  • Genetically Engineered (Transgenic) Plants & Animals
  • Gene Therapy
  • DNA Forensics
  • Genetic Testing for Inherited Diseases (Gene Testing)

Divide the class into eight groups and give each group a card. Instruct them to find resources that will provide pros and cons on the use of that form of biotechnology. Discuss what makes a resource valid and reliable. Ask students to collect and record information (minimum of 10 per student) about their issue, using the following format:

  • Bibliographic information
  • One-sentence summary of information
  • Quote of factual information that would help form a claim on the issue

Next, have groups evaluate their researched information and draw some conclusions. Direct students to construct a claim as to whether the biotechnology application they are studying should be freely used, used with limitations, or banned from use. Have students discuss the research they found and pick the 10 best pieces of evidence to support their claim.

While students work in groups and discuss their research, observe conversations and use the evaluative thinking checklist to assess their evaluative thinking skills. Use the checklist throughout the learning cycle whenever students are evaluating information and engaging in group discussions and activities.

Use the Tool
Give students the tool guidelines. Introduce students to the Showing Evidence Tool by exploring the Try the Tool demonstration space together. Discuss the sample case together or create a sample project and show students how to add, describe, and rate evidence and claims.

Hold a discussion around the idea of reliable evidence. Have students ask themselves the following questions when rating the reliability of an evidence source:

  • Is the source biased?
  • Is the information current?
  • Is the author an authority on the subject?
  • Is the author expressing fact or opinion?

Distribute the argumentation rubric and explain to students that they should use the rubric as a guide as they work with Showing Evidence.

Before proceeding with the next activity, click here to set up the What’s in Your Genes? project in your workspace. Organize students into teams and have them log into their team space. Ask students to create a claim in the workspace and add at least 10 pieces of evidence from their research. Use the Comments feature to give feedback, redirect effort, suggest new avenues of study, or ask for clarification about a team's thinking.

After the students finish putting their information into Showing Evidence, have them review the case of another group that researched the same issue. Direct the peer review groups to read and evaluate the claims of the group assigned to them. Instruct the students to make constructive comments and corrections where needed to the claims and evidence, using the argumentation rubric as a guide.

Examine the Showing Evidence Activity
The Showing Evidence space below represents one team's investigation in this project. The case you see is functional. You can double-click the evidence and comments to read the team's descriptions.

Project Name:  What’s in your genes? (Click here to set up this project in your workspace)

Prompt:  Should we put limitations on the usages of biotechnology?

Explore an interactive demo.

What’s in your genes?


Lobby Your Position
Set up the following scenario:

Step into the future, the year is 2010…The entire Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, and biotechnology is advancing faster than ever before. Legislation is going before Congress and the House of Representatives to determine to what extent various forms of biotechnology will be used within the United States. You have been selected to make recommendations about these biotechnology applications. You will submit a bill to try persuade “legislators” to freely use, disuse, or limit the use of biotechnology on our lives. Your classmates will act as the legislators in this simulation and vote to either approve or reject your recommendations.

Have teams who peer reviewed each other work together to draft a bill by filling in the bill template. The contents of the bill should include:

  • Position your bill supports
  • Why the bill is needed
  • Actions to be taken
  • Key definitions
  • Funding source (if applicable)

Distribute the bill rubric and review it with students before they begin drafting their bill. Have students use the evidence they collected while using Showing Evidence to back up their bill’s recommendations during the presentation.

Allow each group 10 minutes to present their bill to the class. Have the group read the bill aloud and then field questions. Conclude the presentations by having the class vote on whether to approve each team’s bill. See an example of one team’s bill.

After each presentation, have students write a short summary in their science journals explaining the following:

  • Key points of the bill
  • Suggested changes (if applicable)
  • Rationale for recommending to approve or reject the bill

Conduct a class discussion on the Essential Question again. Students should have more insight into what causes scientists to explore new solutions to problems and the ethical questions that sometimes arise from the new solutions.

Prerequisite Skills

  • A unit on cells should be studied prior to beginning this unitDifferentiated Instruction

Differentiated Instruction

Resource Student

  • Afford the student extra time for study
  • Reduce the amount of evidence required
  • Preselect research materials for the student
  • Provide support from a resource specialists

Gifted Student

  • Allow the student to explore multiple controversial biotechnological applications

English Language Learner

  • Arrange for additional support from common language speakers with greater English proficiency
  • Allow the student to present the bill in dual languages
  • Use Biology Tutorials* offered in students’ first languages


Lynne Coté is a high school biology teacher in Tucson, Arizona. She participated in the Intel® Teach Program, which resulted in this idea for a classroom project. A team of teachers expanded the plan into the example you see here.

Your Genes

At a Glance

Grade Level: 9–12

Subject: Biology

Topics: Biotechnology

Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Argumentation, Evaluation, Experimental Inquiry

Key Learnings: DNA, Fertilization, DNA Fingerprints, Molecular Genetics, Genetic Engineering, Gel Electrophoresis, Scientific Research

Time Needed: 5 weeks, 4 periods per week (three 50-minute periods and a 90-minute period)

Background: Arizona, United States