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AoS 2: How humans impact on biological processes

Full Day
Book Program
Year Levels
Unit 4 — How does life change and respond to challenges over time?


Farmers have been genetically modifying organisms for centuries to encourage specific traits in crops, such as drought resistance or high yield. This has relied on cross breeding between individual plants to obtain the desirable trait in subsequent generations. There is now the option to place genes for selected traits directly into another organism, which is known as genetic modification (GM). These genes do not have to originate from the same plant species or even originate from plants at all.

In Australia, products derived from GM crops for use in processed foods include cotton and canola while non-food crops include blue carnations. Cottonseed oil is produced from GM cotton, and can be found in edible vegetable oils and margarines. GM cotton and GM canola are the only GM food products approved to be grown commercially in Australia, although there are several approved for controlled releases. Some imported GM food crop products can be found in processed foods in Australia. There are also GM components in various medications and stockfeed. In addition, enzymes from GM sources are used in the creation of some foods such as sugar and cheese, although there are no GM ingredients found in the end product. No fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, fish or agricultural products sold in Australia are GM, other than those listed above. Many people object to the use of GM crop plants while others argue that these crops are actually better for the environment.

Whatever view one holds in the genetically modified organism (GMO) debate, it would be beneficial to be able to test supermarket foods for the presence of GMO derived products. One method could be to use an antibody-based test such as the enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), which can detect the proteins that are produced by GM crops. The ELISA however, is crop specific and is not useful for testing foods that have been highly processed as the proteins will have most likely been destroyed. Another method is to use the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to look for a DNA sequence common to GM foods. Because DNA is more resistant to processing than proteins it can be extracted from highly processed foods. PCR can then be used to identify GM foods.

Prior Knowledge

No prior knowledge required.

Learning Intentions

In this program students will:

  • Learn how to extract DNA from foods
  • Learn how PCR makes copies of the target DNA
  • Discover techniques for setting up, running and staining electrophoresis gels
  • Discover which of the food samples have come from a genetically modified plant


Students will:

  • Extract DNA from a variety of foods
  • Use PCR to make copies of target DNA
  • Set up and run gel electrophoresis
  • Analyse results

Learn Online

Ecolinc Learn Online is a virtual outreach learning management system (LMS) offering interactive online courses for students and teachers. These courses can be undertaken either as a pre-visit, post-visit or stand-alone.

Students are encouraged to do the pre-learning course on Ecolinc Learn Online called Safe Labs prior to coming to Ecolinc. In this course students will cover all the necessary aspects of laboratory safety during their time at Ecolinc. When planning any work in a laboratory the risk of exposure to laboratory hazards is an important consideration. This course is part of Ecolinc’s risk minimisation for student safety.

VCE links

Outcome 2 SAC - Describe how tools and techniques can be used to manipulate DNA, explain how biological knowledge is applied to biotechnical applications, and analyse the interrelationship between scientific knowledge and its applications in society.