The Access Excellence Periodic Tableau

Sci-Fi/Biotech Video Worksheets

Donald Bockler
Arlington High School
Arlington, MA


Type of entry:

Lesson/class activity

Type of activity:

Target audience

Biology/Advanced Biology/Biotechnology

Abstract/Background of Activity:

This activity uses two commercial films to portray an historical perspective and possible (fanciful) uses of biotechnology for a better understanding of the vocabulary and techniques involved in genetic engineering. The first film, "The Race For the Double Helix", gives an historical perspective to the discovery of the structure of the double helix by Watson and Crick. Interesting and debatable characterization of Rosalind Franklin and other scientists are given in this historical film.

"The Fly" (1986 version), on the other hand, is complete fantasy. Here the scientist (interestingly played again by Jeff Goldblum) again portays a "passionate" scientist, interseted in pushing the edge of scientific inquiry for gains for both himself and for mankind. The emphasis in this second film is more on the understanding of the vocabulary of biotechnology than on the processes. I use Campbell's Biology (3rd edition) for this exercise with my A.P. Biology classes, but any of the other massive introductory biology texts used in such courses could easily be adapted for this film. Students enjoy this exercise.

The videos are readily available for video rentals, libraries, or video supply houses. Little preparation time is needed beyond a general introduction to biotechnology via modern/advanced biology textbooks. The first video requires about two hours of viewing, and the second requires a bit less, depending upon introductory and review remarks. It is most ideal to be able to show each video at one sitting. "The Fly" has some sequences that some viewers might find objectionable, but the outcome has been quite positive over the years that I have been using it. The point does get across, and interesting discussions result from it.


PART 1: "The Race for the Double Helix" video.

(The following information is given to students before the film.)

FILM INTRODUCTION (words on the screen): "By the early 1950's, the greatest unsolved mystery in science was the secret of life itself - the process which all living things have reproduced themselves, generation upon generation, since the beginning of life on Earth. Although the mystery had a name, the 'gene', nobody knew what it was or how it worked."

MAIN CHARACTERS (in order of appearance): James Watson, Maurice Wilkens, Rosalind Franklin, J. Randall, Francis Crick, Edwin Chargaff, Peter Pauling.

MOVIE SECTIONS: (Describe what happened in each of these sections.)

"one of the believers" -

"la religieuse" -

"the bright hope" -

"gossip" -

"goal oriented" -

"buried treasure" -

"it's not fair" -

"little problems" -

"little boys" -

"she hasn't seen it" -

"pairing the bases" -

"it's beautiful" -

Describe Rosalind Franklin's view of her work and Science in general.

How did the other scientists view Franklin?

Contrast the style and methods of Franklin vs. Watson and Crick.

What were Franklin's views on "guesses" in science?

What did Watson and Crick think about Linus Pauling's work?

How did Edwin Chargaff respond to Watson and Crick's questioning?

What were the problems with Linus Pauling's model of DNA?

QUOTES: Who said each of the following in the movie?

  1. "The less data the better... Truth is pretty... We listen, but we don't obey...like gossip."

  2. "Do you know what I like about our kind of work? You can be happy or unhappy; it makes no difference. It doesn't matter if you like what you find or hate it. You look at it and say, 'So that's how it is!'... Sometimes I feel like an archaeologist, breaking into a sealed tomb. You just want to look..."

  3. "You know how I work, Francis. Anyone can come into my lab anytime they like. Science is a communal activity. I have always said that."

  4. "So we got it 2400% wrong... Anyone can make a mistake."

  5. "That's what Science is like; it's not all cold reason. There has to be excitement. Science is like love. You can't be told, 'Love this woman, don't love that woman.' You follow your heart."

  6. "Do you read detective stories? You don't read the ending first to see who did it. It destroys the book. Satisfaction doesn't come from knowing the solution. It comes from learning WHY it's the solution."

  7. "It doesn't matter. THIS (DNA model) is what matters. Life is the shape it is for a purpose. When you see how things really are, all of the hurt and waste fall away. What is left is the beauty."


Part 2: "The Fly" video.

Use this sheet of molecular genetics terms for definitions and/or movie notes relating the movie, "The Fly" (1986 version). (Pages refer to Biology by Campbell, 3rd edition.)

Write a one or two page summary of the movie using the terms as accurately as possible and in proper context with the theme of the movie. Feel free to use "poetic license" when interpreting some of the events of the movie. Underline the terms in the summary.

  1. Genome (p.221, 404-405)

  2. Genetic recombination (p.284-285, 392, 395)

  3. Cross-breeding (p.259, 284)

  4. Wild type (p.282)

  5. Mutant phenotype (p.282)

  6. Epistasis (p.260-270)

  7. Codominance (p.268)

  8. Chiasma & Crossing-over (p.252-253, 292, 285, 358)

  9. Lethal dominant (p.274-275)

  10. Transcription factors and promoters (p.323-324)

  11. Recombinants (p.285, 391)

  12. Reading frame (p.321)

  13. Chromosomal alteration (p.290-295)

  14. Missense/nonsense mutations (p.336)

  15. Transformation (p.301-302, 357, 521)

  16. Transduction (p.357-358, 521)

  17. Transposons (p.361-363, 379)

  18. Repressors & inducers (p.365-367)

  19. Restriction enzymes (p.391-393)

  20. Homeotic genes (p.976-977)

  21. Insertion sequences (p.361-362)

  22. Mutagenesis & mutagens (p.338)

  23. Introns (p.333, 335-336)

  24. Transgenic organisms (p.410)

  25. Tumor-suppressor genes (p.384)


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