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Introduction to Biotechnology: An Essential Curriculum, Page 4

Getting Started
DNA structure and function
Basic lab techniques
Restriction analysis
PCR and sequencing
Biotechnology vocabulary assessment
Optional labs and activities


A well-rounded biotechnology curriculum must include investigations in bioinformatics. This new field of study involves the use of computers to analyze and interpret data generated by the Human Genome Project and other DNA-sequencing efforts. All of the 3 (AT) PCR™ labs listed can be used to give your students valuable experience in analyzing databases for necessary information through the extension activities on the DNALC Web site.

If you are unable to perform any of the PCR labs, the Carolina Webcutter Kit is designed to bring your biotechnology curriculum into the computer age. With this kit, your students can experience how computers and databases are used in a biotechnology research lab. The kit has 3 modules.

Module I
Students do 2 dry labs introducing DNA sequencing.

Module II
Students log on to the Internet and use Carolina™ Webcutter software to determine the identity of their gene fragment and its restriction map.

Module III
Students perform restriction analysis to confirm the identity of their unknown gene (gene mining).


Our biotechnology curriculum includes activities that allow students to explore bioethics. Nearly every day biotechnology discoveries are made that lead to opportunities, possibilities, and decisions for your students to consider. They need practice in placing their prior knowledge, beliefs, and emotions in proper perspective when investigating these bioethical issues.

Probably the best sources for stories that explore these issues are newspapers, magazines, and Internet news sites. Maintain a small library of articles in your classroom and have your students read an article every week. Of course, students are also free to obtain articles on their own. Be sure to stress that their readings must be substantive in nature and not just a quick paragraph or 2. Require that at least a portion of your students' reading assignments comes from scientific journals or magazines such as Scientific American.

To assess your students' comprehension of assigned readings, use a reading reaction form like this one. It is a teacher-friendly form that allows for quick assessment. The DNALC Web site offers an excellent source of biotechnology articles under the heading of "Gene News." 

The Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement Web site, part of the DNALC Web site, is very useful for bioethics studies. It explores the Eugenics Movement in America and allows your students to experience the history and social interpretation of modern science. It can also help your students realize that we must learn from our past mistakes, especially when dealing with a force as powerful as biotechnology. This, of course, would be a terrific unit to integrate with history or social studies classes.

Biotechnology vocabulary assessment

Your students will have plenty of new terms to learn in your biotechnology class. Here is an assessment tool to help you determine their progress. You can use it as a pretest and a posttest. When used in this manner, it encourages students to compile definitions and explanations in a lab book throughout the course for use during the posttest.

Optional labs and activities

  • You might consider substituting the Strawberry DNA Extraction Kit for the Wheat Germ DNA Extraction Kit to show your students that they can extract and observe DNA from a common grocery item. You can get great results with this lab. Also, this is a lab that your students could take home and do in the kitchen with their parents.

  • If you have the time and capability, you can make your own practice pipetting stations with Knox Gelatin™. Mold it in any convenient-sized container (such as petri plate tops and bottoms or Tupperware™ containers). When the gelatin sets up, use a pencil or other appropriately sized tool to punch practice wells into it.
  • Our DNA Made Easy Kit™ is an effective and engaging way to teach DNA. The kit, or "green board" as it is sometimes called, provides hands-on exercises in DNA structure and function, replication, and protein synthesis. Place your students in teams, demonstrate the processes, provide guided practice, and then assess the teams as they teach the processes back to you. Students enjoy the teamwork and the opportunity to teach the teacher. The assessment is easy and immediate. One green board is enough for the whole school and is a great way to review for exams.

  • Paper and pencil exercises such as restriction mapping problems are great tools for teaching your students logical problem solving. Check out our Biotechnology and Genetics for some ideas. You will also find useful links to other biotechnology and genetics resources on the Web, a schedule of upcoming professional development workshops, and short videos to help you through the tricky parts of biotechnology lab work.