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Biotechnology in North Carolina Today

Lesson 5: Evaluate — The Ethical Considerations of Biotechnology


Ethical questions are raised by the possibilities inherent in biotechnology. These can be as basic as trying to evaluate the impact of Bt‐modified crops on insecticide resistant strains of caterpillars and the impact for organic agriculture to trying to decide precisely which genes make us “human.” Students will discuss these ethical dilemmas.

Learning Outcomes

Students will research and present information on an aspect of biotechnology. Students will then assess the ethics of implementing these technologies.

Curriculum Alignment

Goal 7.05 NCSCOS: Investigate aspects of biotechnology including: Specific genetic information available. Careers. Economic benefits to North Carolina. Ethical issues. Impact for agriculture.

Classroom Time Required

One to two days for the dilemma readings and discussion.

Materials Needed

  • Articles/ News clips that question the impact of biotechnology
  • Sticky notes and large chart paper or posterboard

Technology Resources

Optional (alternatives to sticky notes): Computer “Whiteboard” or Overhead Projector sheets and pens


Lessons 1‐4 of Biotechnology in North Carolina Today Lesson 4 is of particular importance to “set the stage” for this activity.


Students will present their research products for Lesson 4.

The following day, the teacher will introduce the class with an open question, “What problems or issues could occur because of the technologies that are being used or developed?” The teacher should continue probing until students come up with a reasonable list.

The students should then read or watch at least 2 stories that deal with potential problems in the biotechnology field. All of the students do not have to read the same article. These could include: pesticide resistance to bacillus thuragensis; the cost to farmers of buying genetically engineered seeds and not being able to save their own seeds due to patent issues; patenting genes that belong to a person, so a person loses the rights to his own tissues; the dangers of monocultures; possibilities of diseases jumping species barriers due to the animals carrying humanized genes; the dangers of cross‐fertilization between engineered species and wild or other non‐engineered species. Try to stick to stories that are valid concerns, not stories that are largely hype. I would consider hype to include things like cloned pets and meat. Search local news shows or newspapers for articles. Other good sources would include magazines on organic or green lifestyles, or science daily or live science websites.

The teacher will then have students, in pairs, come up with one benefit of biotechnology and one possible hazard. The class will list these on the board and students will put them on sticky notes as a group of 4‐6 at their seats. The group should divide the recording work. In a class of 30, you would have 30 sticky notes per group. Each person in the group would need to record items on 5‐7 sticky notes.

The teacher will then ask students to categorize their sticky notes into groups based on who benefits or who is hurt by each idea. Duplicates should be eliminated. Students should strive to come up with someone or something that benefits or is hurt from every item that was listed on the board.

Place your sticky notes into at least 4 groups based on either who benefits or who it costs. Be prepared to share your groups and why you grouped them the way you did. The class will then share their ideas and the teacher will group the ideas on the board, the overhead or using a computer and presentation equipment. Groups will be changing and flexible. The teacher should allow up to ten seconds of wait time after posing a question before moving on.

As the discussion wanes, the teacher will ask, “What needs to be moved or regrouped?” When all regrouping is completed, the teacher will ask students to guess at what motivates each person who benefits from one of the concepts. “You say that the farmer benefits from crops that resist disease. Why does the farmer need/want this benefit?” For any item that is listed as a “cost,” students should also try to determine if someone benefits from that problem and what their motivation is. “You say that the patient is hurt when he doesn’t have rights to the genes in his own body. Who benefits from this? Why do they want that benefit?”

When this discussion is waning, students should be asked to come up with a final summarizing statement. Each group should come up with a one to two sentence statement about the discussion and each statement should be posted at the front of the room. This is the hard part for students and adequate time and support should be given for them to come up with a one sentence summary about the benefits and costs of biotechnology.

Come up with a statement that summarizes our discussion today. Try to make it one sentence.

As a class, students will evaluate all of the posted statements and decide which has the most merit. They will then write that statement and write a page supporting it from the class discussion.

Which one of the statements on the board best summarizes our discussion for today? Why?


  • Rubric for class participation
  • Summarizing paper


Students who are not articulate or are fearful of speaking in a discussion can be given the option of completing an essay on the class discussion.

Students could be given different levels of articles to read.

Alternative Assessments

Students could illustrate their ideas instead of completing a paper.

Critical Vocabulary



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