Students construct paper recombinant plasmids to simulate the methods genetic engineers use to create modified bacteria. They learn what role enzymes, DNA and genes play in the modification of organisms. For the particular model they work on, they isolate a mammal insulin gene and combine it with a bacteria's gene sequence (plasmid DNA) for production of the protein insulin.
Students learn how to build simple piezoelectric generators to power LEDs. To do this, they incorporate into a circuit a piezoelectric element that converts movements they make (mechanical energy) into electrical energy, which is stored in a capacitor (short-term battery). Once enough energy is stored, they flip a switch to light up an LED. Students also learn how much (surprisingly little) energy can be converted using the current state of technology for piezoelectric materials.
Students learn how engineers apply their understanding of DNA to manipulate specific genes to produce desired traits, and how engineers have used this practice to address current problems facing humanity. They learn what genetic engineering means and examples of its applications, as well as moral and ethical problems related to its implementation. Students fill out a flow chart to list the methods to modify genes to create GMOs and example applications of bacteria, plant and animal GMOs.
Students perform an activity similar to the childhood “telephone” game in which each communication step represents a biological process related to the passage of DNA from one cell to another. This game tangibly illustrates how DNA mutations can happen over several cell generations and the effects the mutations can have on the proteins that cells need to produce. Next, students use the results from the “telephone” game (normal, substitution, deletion or insertion) to test how the mutation affects the survivability of an organism in the wild. Through simple enactments, students act as “predators” and “eat” (remove) the organism from the environment, demonstrating natural selection based on mutation.
Students learn about mutations to both DNA and chromosomes, and uncontrolled changes to the genetic code. They are introduced to small-scale mutations (substitutions, deletions and insertions) and large-scale mutations (deletion duplications, inversions, insertions, translocations and nondisjunctions). The effects of different mutations are studied as well as environmental factors that may increase the likelihood of mutations. A PowerPoint® presentation and pre/post-assessments are provided.
Students learn about a fascinating electromechanical coupling called piezoelectricity that is being employed and researched around the world for varied purposes, often for creative energy harvesting methods. A PowerPoint(TM) presentation provides an explanation of piezoelectric materials at the atomic scale, and how this phenomenon converts mechanical energy to electrical energy. A range of applications, both tested and conceptual, are presented to engage students in the topic. Gaining this background understanding prepares students to conduct the associated hands-on activity in which they create their own small piezoelectric "generators."