Activity 9-1: Biotechnology in the U.S. Senate
Summary In this culminating activity students apply their knowledge of genetics as they participate in a mock Senate hearing. Science, politics, business, technology, journalism, and ethics all come together in this investigation. Each student assumes a role in this simulation and performs research on their point of view. After hearing from various individuals and interest groups, a senate subcommittee makes recommendations to the Senate regarding laws regulating certain aspects of biotechnology, such as government funding for biotechnology research, and for placing restrictions on types of research, etc. The committee considers recombinant DNA technology (gene splicing), gene testing, gene therapy, and cloning of plants, animals, and humans. The overriding question is “How far should we go in biotechnology research?”
- Resources on genetics, genetic diseases, biotechnology, cloning of plants, animals, and humans, recombinant DNA technology, gene therapy, and ethical opinions
- Costumes and props
- Additional resources including current magazines and newspaper articles on biotechnology collected and organized into categories.
Assign students to bring in current articles from newspapers, Internet resources, and magazines from the “Science in the News” assignment given in the beginning of the Genetics unit. These articles and resources provide a source of current information on the pros and cons of biotechnology research.
Assemble folders with information pertaining to each of the roles gathered from the “Science in the News” assignments relating to genetics.
Research and list possible Web sites for current information on biotechnology.
Arrange the classroom so that the senators, the vice-chairperson, and the chairperson are at a long table in front of the class. Place two chairs near the long table so that they can be seen by the class members and by the senators. Place name cards on the long table for each of the senators using the students' last names, as in Senator Jones.
Place names of all the witnesses on the desks. Witnesses leave their seats when called to the witness stand and return to their seats when dismissed by the committee.
Estimated Time Two to three class periods for the role-play The time needed for the research will vary.
Social Studies Conduct a debate on the question of “How far should we go in biotechnology research?”
Create a timeline that includes the major events in genetic research over the last 50 years or since Watson and Crick.
Language Arts Write a letter to a congressional representative expressing concerns about support for the government's stand on genetic research.
Write a paper on “What it means to be human,” and how this relates to cloning.
Prerequisites and Background Information
This kind of hearing has been conducted in Congress for issues involving human cloning and genetically altered plants. These issues are currently under debate within the scientific community.
Steps 1-2 Assign student roles or have students specify their preferences for roles. One way to do this is to read over the “Description of Roles,” and ask students to choose three roles that interest them. Then assign a few students to do the casting for the entire class according to student interest.
Have students begin the research at least one week ahead of the scheduled Senate hearing.
Remind students that this activity is a way for them to display all that they have learned in this unit. Encourage them to use scientific terms when appropriate to their roles.
Schedule research time in the library and the computer lab for use of current journals and magazines. The Internet is a source for the most current information, since few books are up to date.
Set up folders, each with a role name-botanist, molecular biologist, etc.-containing pertinent articles and information relevant to that role. Make these available to the students in class or in the library.
While students are engaged in the library or computer research, make a point of meeting with each student to discuss what is expected. Use the Resource as a guide, encouraging students to add their own “creativity” to their roles.
Steps 3-4 Borrow a gavel and a podium if possible for the Senate committee chairperson to use to keep order.
Instruct the senators to make up a list of the order in which to call the witnesses.
Every class member begins the hearing with notes of some Sort. Remind the chairperson to have the senators make a list of questions for the witnesses. Be sure that each witness has a senator in charge of his or her questioning.
Instruct each witness to have a resource sheet on his or her role with whatever information he or she wishes to bring to the witness stand. The journalist and the reporter will produce their products at the end of the proceedings.
Release the senators after all witnesses have been called. The senators should have the information needed to make recommendations.
Senators discuss the information presented and present their recommendations by reading them to the class. This presentation will most likely take place the next class period, since the committee needs to submit recommendations in writing signed by each member.
- Use the videos from the PBS series called The Secret of Life.
- The segment “The Immortal Thread” presents an overview of genetics and the role of DNA. It discusses DNA as the single thread that binds together all forms of life. The program investigates scientists' attempts to find genetic structures common to a variety of living creatures, as well as the ambitious effort to identify the function of every single human gene. The segment “Children by Design” is about gene therapy for cystic fibrosis and the “bubble boy” disease-also genetic engineering (recombinant DNA technology for human growth hormone and insulin). This video is extremely helpful in providing background material for the Senate hearing.
The Mouse That Laid the Golden Egg is a video about genetic engineering.
DNA Is Here to Stay and Amazing Schemes within Your Genes are short books, published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories in Cold Spring Harbor, New York.
- Students can develop their character roles by making up names, assuming the identity of their character, and by wearing costumes.
- Cut up the individual roles on a copy of the Resource so that each person has an appropriate job description.
- Keep the folders and any special resource materials in the classroom until the time of the Senate hearing so that students have available references.
Use the research findings of students and their presentation in the Senate hearing role-play to assess if students can
Concept Map Students generate a list of 10 concepts that have been presented in the genetics unit and use a concept map to explain how they are related. You may want to review the key ideas from each section to help students start this Mini Activity. Have students present their concept maps and explanations to the class.
Do you think the Human Genome Project is more likely to help or hurt humankind? Why? Defend your choice?
- Sample answers to these questions will be provided upon request. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to request sample answers.
- What is recombinant DNA? Why is it important?
- Why are bacteria used in genetic research?
- What are five necessary steps in making recombinant DNA?
- Why is mapping human genes important to scientists' knowledge of the human genome?
Activity 9-1 Resource: Biotechnology in the U.S. Senate (Student Reproducible)
DESCRIPTION OF ROLES
Chairperson arranges the agenda and conducts the hearing, keeping order and questioning on track; keeps track of time and the order of the witnesses; ensures that the vice-chairperson and the senators have specific questions to ask the witnesses.
Vice-chairperson takes the chairperson's place in the event of his/her absence. Otherwise this person has the same responsibilities as the other senators.
Senators (3 for 4)
- are responsible for questioning the expert witnesses to get the information needed to make recommendations to the Senate.
- ensure that all witnesses are treated respectfully. This is not a trial, but a forum for their education in the field of biotechnology.
Research Scientist for the Food and Drug Administration has a high-level job in the Food and Drug Administration Lab evaluating projects within biotechnology companies. He or she:
- is responsible for the safety of products and is concerned about the health of humans, animals, and plants.
- believes science is not just about gathering information but about using it responsibly.
- believes cloning will reduce biodiversity, and thus upset the balance of nature.
- has concerns about such issues as “ordering” genetically engineered babies.
Citizen Action Group includes individuals who are concerned about:
- the social issues of cloning.
- the cloning of humans, animals, and plants.
- the loss of biodiversity.
The group opposes cloning and wants to make certain that the journalist knows their point of view.
Journalist is responsible for writing a human interest story in a newspaper or magazine covering the hearing proceedings. This article will be submitted after the recommendation of the Senate committee has been delivered to the full Senate.
- will be asked about available treatments and cures for genetic diseases.
- has opinions about the positive and negative aspects of bioengineering as they relate to medical treatment for his/her patients.
- has concerns that as we find genes for diseases such as breast cancer, Alzeimers disease, etc. we have information but not necessarily cures.
- will be asked about the confidentiality of medical records.
- has concerns about the cost of some gene therapies and their availability to lower-income citizens.
The Medical Doctor introduces the growth hormone recipient and the person with diabetes, both of whom have benefited from genetic engineering.
Growth Hormone Recipient is a 20-year-old male who has received the genetically engineered human growth hormone. He will speak of his experiences before and after treatment with the genetically engineered human growth hormone.
Diabetic who leads a normal life because of genetically engineered human insulin.
Insurance Company Executive discusses insurance coverage based on preexisting genetic conditions. This executive wants to reassure the committee that the insurance companies do not intend to use genetic testing information when deciding to insure people. Many people are afraid that this will happen.
Molecular Biologist has developed and can use cloning techniques for plants, animals, and humans. The biologist needs to explain the “how to” to senators on the basics of bio-engineering-specifically addressing cloning and gene therapy. The biologist supports genetic engineering because he or she thinks it will help to wipe out genetic diseases and that gene therapy will benefit many people.
Botanist (a scientist who investigates and works with plants) explains how genetic engineering on plants is accomplished and the benefits and drawbacks, if any. The botanist describes examples of plant products produced by genetic engineering and gives examples of safe use already in the marketplace or on the storeshelves.
Member of Congress (or member of the House of Representatives in a state such as California where hundreds of bioengineering firms are located) His or her reelection depends on keeping biotechnology business profitable, which will be good for the state economy. The member of congress supports the molecular biologist's company and its research in his/her state.
Recorder sits facing the witnesses and records the events of the proceedings with a tape recorder, video camera, written log, or word processor. A typed copy of the proceedings will be given to the Chairperson at the end of the hearing.