Brian Kaestner
1992 Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute

Instructor's Information


"In his State of the Union address in late January ('92) President Bush announced a moratorium on new environmental and health and safety regulations, including those covering biotechnology." (The Gene Exchange, Vol. 3, No. 1 , April 1992.)

Currently, numerous transgenic organisms (organisms with DNA from species other than their own) fall under this moratorium. The regulation of transgenics, if any, may include a labeling component. The students completing this module will be asked to make decisions on consumer rights and public policy. They will then be encouraged to participate in the process by communicating their decisions to the proper officials of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Time Frame:

Preparation - 1 period
Activity - 1 or 2 periods

Grade Level:

9-12 with appropriate changes

Subject Area:

Biology I, Life Science, Biology II with enhancements (appropriate during genetics or embryology units)


This activity will use a simulated meal of transgenic foods to initiate classroom discussion of the current controversy concerning the use of transgenic food products for human consumption. The instructor will be able to describe the processes involved in the development of transgenic organisms and the activity will initiate the discussion of specific concerns. The questions raised could include the following:

  1. Should transgenic food products be labeled as such?

  2. Do consumers have the right to know the genetic composition of the food they consume?

The students will be challenged to decide upon a labeling policy for transgenic foods used for human consumption and to communicate that policy to public officials.


  • local newspaper articles if available
  • student readings (included)
  • individual student worksheet (included)
  • group worksheet (included)
  • prepared foods from menu at teacher's discretion
  • evaluation sheet (included)

Assigned Readings:

Use the newspaper articles included with this activity or find articles in your local papers. (Hint: when you start your unit on genetics, ask your students to start collecting any newspaper articles they can find on the topic of genetics; you will probably find a few on transgenics.)


Day One:

  1. Start this exercise with a food tasting. The instructor or the students may provide the food samples. Menu substitutes may be determined from " What's Coming to the Table" (enclosure #1).

  2. Hand out cover menu and enclosure #1 after tasting.

  3. Read through cover menu and explain that these were SIMULATED transgenic foods which are all currently pending government approval for human consumption. Show overhead of "Transgenic Map" (enclosure #2a).

  4. Discuss how transgenic organisms are produced indicating the differences between plant and animal techniques. (See background material in appendix.)

  5. Hand out assigned reading (enclosure #3 or local articles) and individual student worksheet (enclosure #4) as homework assignment due the next day at the start of class.

Day Two:

  1. Small groups (3-5 students) decide upon a transgenic food labeling policy by completing Group Work Sheet (enclosure #5). Allow 20 minutes.

    You may want them to write on large paper for immediate posting.

    The instructor may prefer to separate students into groups based upon the roles indicated on the group worksheet.

  2. Each group briefly presents their results to the class.

  3. Class must reach a consensus on a specific labeling policy.

  4. Teacher or a student types the finalized version for class approval. All willing students sign document and send with a cover letter to the USDA and FDA (proper addresses at start of bibliography).


Although each teacher may choose his or her own system of evaluation, a possible grading sheet has been included (enclosure #6).


Background Information and Teacher Preparation Notes

Enclosure #1 indicates some of the wide variety of genes that can now be inserted into plants and animals. For example, "growth-promoting genes can be inserted into domestic animals by microinjection into pronuclei (usually the slightly larger sperm nucleus). These transgenes are stably integrated and can be transmitted to progeny, usually on a single chromosome. " (First and Haseltine, p.263). A map indicating approved release areas is included.

A summary of the process used to produce transgenic animals (enclosure #2b) is also included. Details of the process can be found in many AP Biology texts or in the additional resources listed.


  1. What's Coming to the Table
    "The Gene Exchange" Vol. 2, No. 4 (Dec. '91).

    1. Transgenics Approved Release Map
      "The Gene Exchange" Vol. 3, No. 1 (Jan. '92).

      gene exchange map

      The number in each state equals the number of applications pending or approved by USDA & EPA for testing in that state as of 4/7/92. The figure may understate the number of tests in each state as applicants may test in more than one site in each state per application. We assume that approved tests have been conducted. USDA & EPA generally approve pending tests.

    2. Animal Process

      Production of transgenic mice by pronuclear microinjection (Gordon et al. 1980). One-celled fertilized eggs are recovered and the most accessible pronucleus, usually the male, is microinjected. Embryos are then transferred to the oviducts of pseudopregnant females and evaluated after birth by Southern blot hybridization, or a related technique, for retention of foreign DNA.

  2. Newspaper Articles: "The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette" May, 27, 1992.

  3. Transgenics - Individual Student Worksheet

  4. Transgenics - Group Worksheet

  5. Grading Sheet


USDA-United States Department of AgricultureFDA-Food and Drug Administration
Mr. Terry Medley, Director Biotechnology, Biologics, and Environmental Protection
Federal Building
6505 Belcrest Rd.
Hyattsville, MD 20782
Mr. David Kessler, Commissioner
FDA HF 1, Room 1471
Parklane Building
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857




Spiced Potatoes with Waxmoth genes
Juice of Tomatoes with Flounder genes


Blackened Catfish with Trout gene
Scalloped Potatoes with Chicken gene
Cornbread with Firefly gene


Rice Pudding with Pea gene


Milk from Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH)
Supplemented Cows

* This menu is from the "The Gene Exchange", a publication of the National Wildlife Federation. Federal permits for environmental release are pending or have been granted for all of the transgenic plants and animals included on the menu.


A Mutable Feast: Assuring Food Safety in the Era of Genetic Engineering
"A Proposal to the Food and Drug Administration to Adopt New Safety and Labeling Rules for Genetically Engineered Foods"
Douglas Hopkins, Rebecca Goldberg, and Stephen Hirsch
Presented by the Environmental Defense Fund, 1991.
257 Park Ave. South, N.Y., N.Y. 10010

"The Gene Exchange"
Published by the National Biotechnology Policy Center of the
National Wildlife Federation.
Vol. 1-1990 (#3&4).
Vol. 2-1991 (#1,2,3,4).
Vol. 3-1992 (#1).

Transgenic Animals
"Proceedings of the Symposium on Transgenic Technology
in Medicine and Agriculture"
Neal First and Florence Haseltine
1988-National Institutes of Health

Additional Resources:

Biotechnology and the Environment,
Margaret Mellon
National Biotechnology Policy Center
Environmental Quality Division
National Wildlife Federation, 1988
(see address below)

Biotechnology's Bitter Harvest,
Rebecca Goldberg, Jane Rissler, Hope Shand, and
Chuck Hassebrook
A Report of the Biotechnology Working Group
(contact NWF for additional information)

BriefBook: Biotechnology, Microbes, and the Environment,
Center for Science Information
4252 20th St.
San Francisco, CA 94114

"The Gene Exchange" (free quarterly newsletter)
National Biotechnology Policy Center
National Wildlife Federation
1400 16th St., NW
Washington, DC 20036-2266


Currently many foods are being engineered to contain new genes from a variety of sources.

Potato Chicken Increased disease resistance
Giant silk moth Increased disease resistance
Greater waxmoth Reduced bruising damage
Virus Increased disease resistance
Bacteria Increased herbicide tolerance
Corn Wheat Reduced insect damage
Firefly Introduction of marker genes
Bacteria Increased herbicide tolerance
Tomato Flounder Reduced freezing damage
Virus Increased disease resistance
Bacteria Reduced insect damage
Soybean Petunia Increased herbicide tolerance
Rice Bean, pea Introduction of new storage proteins
Bacteria Reduced insect damage
Virus Increased disease resistance
Sunflower Brazil nut Introduction of new storage proteins
Walnut Bacteria Reduced insect damage
Apple Bacteria Reduced insect damage
Catfish Trout Faster growth

*Information compiled from applications to federal agencies to field test engineered organisms.

Source: The Gene Exchange 2 (4), December 1991.



Name   ________________________________
Date   ________________________________
Instructor's Initials For Credit ______


Briefly answer the following questions. Please be certain that you have supported your opinions.

This must be ready at the start of class for full credit.

  1. Considering that most transgenic food items are nutritionally identical to current food supplies and that they do not taste any different, is it necessary to label food products containing transgenically produced ingredients?

  2. a) If you answered NO to the question above, What groups or individuals do you think will be in favor of labeling?

    List up to five.

    1. ____________________________
    2. ____________________________
    3. ____________________________
    4. ____________________________
    5. ____________________________

    b) If you answered YES to the question above, List some specific factors which should be considered in a labeling policy.

    List up to five.

    1. ____________________________
    2. ____________________________
    3. ____________________________
    4. ____________________________
    5. ____________________________



Name   ________________________________
Date   ________________________________
Instructor's Initials For Credit ______

Task 1:

Consider the possible viewpoints for the following individuals or groups regarding labeling. Fill in the table below. (Add your own at the bottom)

Individuals/GroupsY/N Reason
Large Ranch

Small Agricultural

Genetic Technology



Major Food


Task 2:

Your task is to decide upon a labeling policy for foods containing transgenic ingredients.

If your group decides that no labels are necessary, you must defend your answer.

If your group decides that labels are necessary, write the specifics of your policy.

Task 3:

Does your policy change if the gene incorporated in the food is a human gene? (DNX currently has a strain of pigs with the gene for human hemoglobin.)



Name   ________________________________
Date   ________________________________
Instructor's Initials For Credit ______

Max Score
SECTION ONE - Individual Work (20 pts.)
To receive full credit in this section you must have this completed at the start of class assigned.

Individual Worksheet - Question #110
Individual Worksheet - Question #210
SECTION TWO - Group Work (60 pts.)
Groups members may or may not receive the same score.

Group Effort20
Contribution by all members10
Group Worksheet - Question #15
Group Worksheet - Question #220
Group Worksheet - Question #35
SECTION THREE - Class Work (20 pts)
All class members should receive same score.

Class Policy Statement20
EXTRA CREDIT - 10 points possible

Response from USDA5
Response from FDA5

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