What Are Some Ethical Issues Regarding Genetic Engineering?


Michelle Obenauer

Peekskill High School, Westchester


Summer Research Program for Science Teachers

August 2012




Subject:           Living Environment/Biology


Grade Level:  9th and 10th grades


Duration:        Two class periods


Aim:                At the end of the lesson students will be able to identify some ethical, moral and legal issues surrounding genetic engineering. 


Vocabulary     Asexual reproduction; biotechnology, bond, chromosome, clone, DNA, Egg, Expressed, Genes, Genetic Engineering, Genetic Recombination, Heredity,

                        Mutation, Replicate, Selective Breeding, Sexual reproduction, Sperm, Subunit, Template, Traits, Protein Synthesis, RNA


Materials and Prep:

Prior Knowledge:

This culminating activity is student centered and created for the unit on Genetics, specifically Genetic Engineering.  By this time, students should have prior knowledge including Mandelian genetics, the difference between DNA and RNA and how it works, protein synthesis, selective breeding versus genetic engineering and stem cells.  The class has also discussed some misconceptions about genetics. 


Methods and Procedure:

  1. Aim will be appropriately displayed on the board.  “What are some ethical issues regarding genetic engineering?” The lesson is to start with a review of the term genetic engineering and students will be encouraged to give some examples of same. Students will also be asked, what does the term ethics mean?  Genetic engineering is a relatively new topic and is advancing at lightening pace.

  2. The students will be divided into groups of four. Each group will be given a different ethical issue for discussion. The class as a whole will be asked to read the first four paragraphs together on the handout.  (They are the same on each sheet). One student will be asked to volunteer to read.  

  3. Students will be given markers, Post-it sheets and the activity. Students will be asked to take some time for discussion in order to answer the questions on their respective sheets. After appropriate time, students will be asked to come up one group at a time and share their issue and findings. Class discussion will ensue. 



The New York State core curriculum learning standards and the National Standards have been listed for this lesson. 


New York State: 

Key idea:  Throughout recorded history, humans have used selective breeding and other biotechnological methods to produce products or organisms with desirable traits. Our current understanding of DNA extends this to the manipulation of genes leading to the development of new combinations of traits and new varieties of organisms.

Performance indicator 2.2  Explain how the technology of genetic engineering allows humans to alter genetic makeup of organisms.

Major Understandings

2.2a  For thousands of years new varieties of cultivated plants and domestic animals have resulted from selective breeding for particular traits.

2.2b In recent years new varieties of farm plants and animals have been engineered by manipulating their genetic instructions to produce new characteristics. 

2.2c Different enzymes can be used to cut, copy, and move segments of DNA. Characteristics produced by the segments of DNA may be expressed when these segments are inserted into new organisms, such as bacteria.

2.2d Inserting, deleting, or substituting DNA segments can alter genes. An altered gene may be passed on to every cell that develops from it.

2.2e Knowledge of genetics is making possible new fields of health care; for example, finding genes which may have mutations that can cause disease will aid in the development of preventive measures to fight disease. Substances, such as hormones and enzymes, from genetically engineered organisms may reduce the cost and side effects of replacing missing body chemicals.


National Standards:  Standard 1: Content

Teachers of science understand and can articulate the knowledge and practices of contemporary science. They can interrelate and interpret important concepts, ideas, and applications in their fields of licensure; and can conduct scientific investigations. To show that they are prepared in content, teachers of science must demonstrate that they:

a. Understand and can successfully convey to students the major concepts, principles, theories, laws, and interrelationships of their fields of licensure and supporting fields as recommended by the National Science Teachers Association.

b. Understand and can successfully convey to students the unifying concepts of science delineated by the National Science Education Standards.

c. Understand and can successfully convey to students important personal and technological applications of science in their fields of licensure.

d. Understand research and can successfully design, conduct, report and evaluate investigations in science.


C.2. Recommendations for Teachers of Biology


C.2.a. Core Competencies. All teachers of biology should be prepared to lead students to understand the unifying concepts required of all teachers of science, and should in addition be prepared to lead students to understand:

            7. General concepts of genetics and heredity.

            12. Applications of biology in environmental quality and in personal and community health.

C.2.b. Advanced Competencies. In addition to these core competencies, teachers of biology as a primary field should be prepared to effectively lead students to understand:

            20. How to design, conduct, and report research in biology.

            21. Applications of biology and biotechnology in society, business, industry, and health fields.


Assessment of Students: Students will be assessed by the following: 

  1. Student will be assessed on the satisfactory completion of the discussion. (see Rubric)