Starved for Science

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Students will be able to interact with government officials and major decision makers in the regulation of GMO products in order to synthesize their own opinions on GMO foods.

Big Idea

Debating controversial topics in science is a luxury that not all of our world's citizens enjoy.


5 minutes

Students will be exposed to various issues surrounding genetically modified foods and this lesson is designed to help them understand the complexity of the issues surrounding this use of biotechnology.  The purpose of this activity is to help students understand how the foods we eat, such as genetically modified foods, are created and regulated by several government agencies.  This activity is also designed to provide students with the opportunity to learn how to write in science, using scientific language and proper discourse, as well as to develop their speaking and listening skills.

Innovation is the key to survival and growth in many industries, but nowhere more so than in agricultural biotechnology.  Understanding the causes and consequences of biotechnology innovation in agriculture requires navigating a complex maze of economic, social, political, ethical and technical trends. Although nothing seems to spark greater discussion than genetically modified foods, it is actually the granting of patents, public perceptions, cultural/societal norms, and intellectual property legislation that will play a crucial role in the development and use of practices that may be vital to meeting future global demands for food.

Essential Question(s):

1. What challenges does agriculture face today?

2. Can biotechnology help meet the growing demand for food as well as other current and future challenges in agriculture?

3. How does climate change threaten agriculture?

4. How can agricultural biotechnology make better use of our limited natural resources?

5. Why haven’t small farmers benefited more from global trade?

6. How can traditional knowledge of farming contribute to and support innovation in agricultural biotechnology?

National Biotechnology Standards:

BT.7.3 Compare and contrast attitudes about the use of biotechnology regionally, nationally, and internationally.

BT. 7.4 Evaluate the regulatory policies impacting biotechnology research - e.g., use of animals in research and applications of recombinant DNA.


15 minutes

Engage (Activate Student Thinking)

1. Display a powerpoint slide which displays the logos of the USDA, FDA, and EPA and ask students to ask themselves the following:

How does the work of these agencies affect me?

2. Introduce the topic of genetically modified organisms in biotechnology. Discuss how this innovation has sparked a debate that will most likely continue for years to come. Public opinion in regards to the use of GMO’s has influenced how other applications of this technology are perceived such as the use of alternate fuels or biofuels and use of agricultural innovations in developing nations.

3. View the CBS NEWS Video, “Miracle Food Saves Lives: Anderson Cooper Reports On A Nutritional Breakthrough” located at the following URL’s - OR

Ask students to focus on the following questions as they view the video segment and record information that will be referenced in their responses to the following:

- Why are novel ways of addressing nutrition significant to the people of Niger, West Africa?

- What is one key consideration in this case study? Why is this aspect of the case study significant?

- How is the use of innovations in agricultural biotechnology regulated to ensure that these advancements are safe for human/animal consumption?


25 minutes

Explore (Guided/Student-Centered Activity)

OBSERVE - Have students identify and note details of the following while observing a political cartoon on the use of genetically modified organisms.

- Describe what you see.

- What do you notice first?

- What people and objects are shown?

- What, if any, words do you see?  

- What do you see that looks different than it would in a photograph?

- What do you see that might refer to another work of art or literature?

- What do you see that might be a symbol?

- What other details can you see?

REFLECT - Encourage students to generate and test hypotheses about the political cartoon they observed in the section above.

- What's happening in the cartoon?

- What was happening when this cartoon was made?

- Who do you think was the audience for this cartoon?

- What issue do you think this cartoon is about?

- What do you think the cartoonist's opinion on this issue is?

- What methods does the cartoonist use to persuade the audience?

QUESTION - Have students ask questions to lead to more observations and reflections. - What do you wonder about... who? · what? · when? · where? · why? · how?


15 minutes

Explain (Formulate Ideas)

Compare two political cartoons that are on the same side of an issue. Identify the different methods — like symbols, allusions, or exaggeration — that the two cartoons use to persuade their audience.


15 minutes

Elaborate (Apply and Extend Understanding)

Help students to identify questions appropriate for further investigation, and to develop a research strategy for finding answers. Sample Question: What more do you want to know, and how can you find out?

Option A

1. Read the Seattle Times newspaper article, “GMO potato OK’d, designed by McDonalds’s supplier” by Andrew Pollack of The New York Times. Instruct students to annotate the article with two highlight colors in which one color indicates the (+) and/or (-) characteristics and aspects of the use of the new GMO potato and another color indicates the (+) and/or (-) traits of the non-GMO potato.

It may be helpful to define the following terms before reading using the Verbal Visual Vocabulary technique BEFORE reading the text: genetically engineered, commercial (adj.), acrylamide, carcinogen, supplier, late blight, enzyme.

2. After reading the case study have students prepare for a discussion by answering the following questions:

- What would be some benefits if fewer potatoes and apples had to be thrown out?

- Before modern genetic engineering, how did growers tinker with plants’ DNA? How does genetic    engineering increase their ability to do this?

- Why would people care about the process by which a crop got its DNA?

- What would be some possible consequences of refusing to approve the new potato?

- What consequences do opponents fear from the potato, according to the article?

- If you have a choice between eating French Fries made from the new genetically modified potato and other potatoes, is one choice more cautious than the other? Why or why not?

- If a government has a choice between banning and allowing the genetically modified potato, is one choice more cautious than the other? Why or why not?

Option B

- Rank and Reason: “What are the root causes of World Hunger?!  -

- Research….Think Ling (6things) on a .jpeg collage BEFORE completing ranking activity

 Option C

- Read excerpts from the text, “Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is Being Kept Out of Africa” by Robert Paarlberg and create a class blog in which students share their opinions and viewpoints on the author's portrayal of this very controversial topic. Read additional text which provide insights into the use of agricultural biotechnology in Africa such as, Growing Optimism, by Motlatsi Musi and have students compare and contrast the viewpoints of all stakeholders on all side of this growing debate.


15 minutes

Evaluate (Monitor Understanding)

Select a political cartoon. Think about the point of view of the cartoonist. Describe or draw how the cartoon might be different if a cartoonist with a different point of view had created the cartoon.