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by Shannon Loudy
University of Idaho Student

GRADE: 10 to 12

SUBJECT MATTER: Life Sciences: Genetics and Biology

tudents will learn about the Human Genome Project through classroom discussion and the video, Cracking the Code of Life. They will research and produce reports about the issues of disease, human health, and the ethical, legal, and societal implications of the Human Genome Project using classroom discussion and specified web resources.


Students will:

  • Describe the basic concepts of the Human Genome Project.
  • Complete a Focus for Media Interaction worksheet with information gathered from the video.
  • Predict the effects that the Human Genome Project will have on human health and medicine.
  • Anticipate the future ethical and legal problems surrounding the Human Genome Project.
  • Describe current news events that deal with the human genome using the knowledge that they obtain from class discussions and the video.
  • After researching a topic directly related to the Human Genome Project, students will produce a 2-5 page paper that will be presented to the class.


National Science Education Standards http://www.nap.edu/readingroom

  • Content Standard A Science as Inquiry

  • Content Standard C, Life Science Molecular Basis of Heredity

  • Content Standard E, Science and Technology, Abilities of Technological Design, Understandings about Science and Technology

  • Content Standard F, Personal and Community Health Science and Technology in Society



PBS NOVA: Cracking the Code of Life (2001)


NOVA online viewing of the show: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova

NOVA teacher guide, ideas for pre and post viewing and for further activities. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova

Ethical, Legal, and Societal Implication of the Human Genome Project http://www.ornl.gov/hgmis/elsi/elsi.html

Genetic and Rare Conditions Site http://kumc.edu/gec/support

Genetics in the News

National Human Genome Research Institute. http://www.nhgri.nih.gov

Genetic Terms

Science Magazines

TAY SACHS: http://www.ntsad.org
Cystic Fibrosis http://www.cff.org


Download the complete transcript of the program to help you find the segments that you will use http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/transcripts/2809genome.html.

Set the video at appropriate starting point for the first segment on the background of the Human Genome Project.

Bookmark any web sites you will use on the students’ computers.

Copy the video worksheet and research paper guidelines (your own or the one included with this lesson).

Preview Program Contents:
(taken from the NOVA website, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/teachersguide/genome/
#before NOVA follows corporate and academic scientists as they race to capture one of the biggest prizes in scientific history: the complete, letter-by-letter sequence of genetic information that defines human life -- the human genome.

The program:

  • Introduces Celera corporate scientist Craig Venter and MIT Whitehead Institute academic scientist Eric Lander, who runs one of the primary government-funded genome sequencing sites.
  • Explains Venter's breakthrough that isolated genes from "junk" DNA via high-speed computing and the use of short fragments of DNA called "expressed sequence tags".
  • Profiles the different research methods and styles of the academic and corporate scientists.
  • Reviews the debate and struggle over patenting genes.
  • Speculates on legal and ethical questions relating to use of the human genome.
  • Explains the structure and function of DNA, what a gene is and what it does, and how proteins -- produced by genetic instruction -- actually govern the body's processes.
  • Uses animation to depict how scientists "read" the genetic code and determine where genes are located.
  • Notes that almost every disease can trace its cause to some genetic mutation.
  • Provides examples of individuals and doctors who face health decisions that rest on information the human genome contains.
  • Summarizes that while mapping the human genome is one of the most significant achievements of the century, when finished, the project will really have just provided the infrastructure for years of future work in detecting, treating, and possibly curing human illnesses. Parts of the whole program have been chosen for this lesson, but you might want to include more.


Prior knowledge review: Terminology: DNA, genes, protein, chromosomes, and traits. Structure of a DNA molecule (double helix). Review that a mutation is a physical change in a chemical base in the DNA molecule. Student expectations: A notebook will be kept and handed in for thoroughness. The notebook will contain class notes, vocabulary, video focus sheet and answers, three articles from current news sources about the Human Genome and brief descriptions about the articles, your research paper of your chosen topic.

Ask students what they know about the Human Genome Project from the news or other classes. Write the responses on the board and discuss. Advise students to take notes on the material discussed. Review terms that they will need to know before watching the video. Introduce the video, Cracking the Code of Life. The video discusses the race by scientists to sequence the human genome. It gives examples about genetic diseases that might benefit from the project and discusses the implications of the Human Genome Project on health, medicine, and legal issues.


The first segment of the video will give them an overview of the Human Genome Project . To give students a specific responsibility while viewing, they will complete a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION worksheet.

START the video at the beginning. (leave lights on) After the statement, “50% of human genes are in a banana.” PAUSE Discuss what this might mean. Students will take notes on all discussions.

START then PAUSE after “What is the same about both organisms?” List the common connections.

START then PAUSE after the genetic diseases are mentioned. List the diseases mentioned.

START and watch until after “I’m Robert Krulwich...meet the people who competed furiously.” Discuss what might be hopeful and uncomfortable about this work. Discuss the fact that all living things contain the secret of life in the chemicals of DNA. Discuss the technique used to take DNA from a human cell.

Point out that humans have only 2 times the genes of a fruit fly. Genetically speaking we are closely related to many living things. There are 3 billion steps to analyzing the whole human genome. The project was predicted to take 15 years but it turned into a race between many labs and the time was reduced to 10 years. Talk about genetic diseases which can be caused by a mutation on a gene of only one single letter (ATGC)

START the video at the beginning of the Lord family’s story about Tay-Sachs disease and watch that whole segment. Check for understanding about this section. Add Tay-Sachs to the list of diseases. Explain that the next segment of the video will discuss the implications of the Human Genome Project on health, medicine, and legal issues. Discuss the benefits of the project. Are genes private property? Should they be patented so the discoverer can make money? Should anyone make money with this information?

START the video at Riley’s case. PAUSE the video at the end of the protein section and discuss the complexity of proteins and Cystic Fibrosis.

START at the section that discusses the problems of using this information. STOP after the words, “You will and you may.” Discuss this section.

START at the GATTACA movie clip. Until Collins says “ blur that boundary of making your kids genetically different “ STOP

Discuss the ideas in the video. Discuss the fact that some plants and animals have already been genetically modified. Is this O.K.? Discuss final thoughts. Complete the post viewing questions.


Invite various professionals to a panel discussion about the implications, problems and benefits of the information in the Human Genome Project. Include a guest speakers for a panel discussion such as: a scientist, a geneticist, a lawyer, a clergyman. Students will prepare their questions before the discussion. Hand out and discuss the guidelines for the research paper.

Show them the web sites that they can use for resources. Explain that they can pick their topic from these areas. Ethical, Legal, or Societal Implications of the Human Genome Project. http://www.ornl.gov/hgmis/elsi/elsi. html

Genetic Diseases http://kumc.edu/gec/support

Genetic Topics in the News http://www.ornl.gov/hgmis/archive/headlines.html

Careers in Genetics Students will write a 2-5 page paper on the topic of their choice.


The legal and ethical issues will connect directly with what the students are learning in their government and debate classes. Visit a genetic lab.

For additional lesson plans and ideas relating to this topic and many others try TeacherSource at PBS Online! You will find activities, lesson plans, teacher guides and links to other great educational web sites! Search the database by keyword, grade level or subject area! Mathline and Scienceline are also great resources for teachers seeking teaching tips, lesson plans, assessment methods, professional development, and much more!

The Idaho 2001 National Teacher Training Institute is made possible through the efforts of
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