The Green Room
Beckrich, Amanda, The Science Teacher
Genetically Modified Crops
Genetic engineering involves manipulating an organism's genetic material, often by inserting genetic material from another organism of a different species. The resulting genetically engineered (GE) or genetically modified organism (GMO) has a unique genome and at least one new beneficial genetic trait. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) provides an overview of the process of plant genetic engineering (see "On the web"). Scientists working for Monsanto, an agricultural biotechnology corporation, were the first to genetically modify a plant cell in 1982. Now, Monsanto is one of the leading producers of GE seed (see "On the web").
Genetically modifying crops has its pros and cons. Proponents argue that GM crops are crucial to expanding global food production. Monsanto explains how crops have been engineered to produce higher yields, resist pests, tolerate drought, and so forth. Opponents say the environmental and human health risks outweigh the benefits. The Center for Food Safety considers GE to be harmful. They even publish a non-GMO shoppers' guide (see "On the web"). The Union of Concerned Scientists also addresses controversies surrounding GM crops (see "On the web"). The National Research Council provides a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of GE crops on U.S. farms (NRC 2010).
UNL offers many activities--from designing a new GMO to debating about the effects of Bt corn on monarch butterflies--which can help students understand genetic engineering (see "On the web"). An activity from the University of Missouri-Columbia leads students through DNA extraction from a plant or animal. Students can describe gene splicing and explore genetic engineering of food in an activity from NOW with Bill Moyers (see "On the web").
The New York Times provides a Hunger Games science activity based on genetically engineered organisms. Focusing on a fictional bird from the popular Hunger Games story, students learn about GMO research and develop proposals seeking to either restrict or permit research into the genetic modification of the avian flu virus (see "On the web").
The NOVA website has activities and a teacher's guide to accompany their Harvest of Fear documentary (see "On the web"). More activities based on Harvest of Fear are at Teachers' Domain. Students can compare selective breeding and transgenic manipulation of plants, explore the possible consequences of GMOs, and analyze public opinion about GM foods (see "On the web"). …