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Torn at the Genes

One Family's Debate Over Genetically Altered Plants

Co Authors:

Jennifer Nelson
School of Medicine
University at Buffalo

Clyde Freeman Herreid
Department of Biological Sciences
University at Buffalo


The setting for this case is the family dinner table, where a heated discussion about genetically altered foods is taking place. Marsha Cumberland’s brother-in-law has joined the family for dinner. Ed is an industry official whose job it is to decide whether or not new products need pre-market approval by the FDA. He has just returned from a conference on transgenic foods.  When it turns out that some of the food on the dinner table is genetically modified, a debate ensues with different members of the family at different ends of the spectrum. Written for an introductory biology course, the case considers the scientific and ethical issues of genetically altered plants.

  • To examine the techniques used to transfer genes from one organism to another.
  • To consider the benefits as well as the costs of genetic engineering.
  • To examine the potential ecological consequences of genetic engineering of crops and
  • To discuss the ethical arguments involved in the manipulation of DNA in organisms and the issue of labeling genetically modified food.
  • To consider the possible evolution of resistance in bacteria and insects due to genetically engineered foods.
  • To consider possible health issues associated with genetically modified foods, including allergies and antibiotic resistance.
Keywords: Genetic engineering; genetically modified food; genetically modified organism; GMO; transgenic crops; agricultural biotechnology; plant genetics; food production; Food & Drug Administration; FDA
Topical Area: Ethics, Policy issues, Scientific argumentation, Social issues
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Debate, Dilemma/Decision, Discussion, Role-Play
Language: English
Subject Headings: Biotechnology   Agriculture   Botany / Plant Science   Genetics / Heredity  
Date Posted: 03/11/00
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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The answer key doesn't actually include the answers to the 10 questions. As an ap bio teacher using this in my lower level class, I worry that I may be looking for too much detail. It would be nice to see the answers that were suggested as right, and it would save me time from having to make the key myself. I like this case though.


Editor’s Reply: This particular case was an early entrant into the case collection (published 2002); while the questions are not addressed specifically in the key, the main issues are addressed in the teaching notes and answer key together.

Nicole Weber
Highland High School
Highland IN

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