Selective breeding and gene technology

It is important to consider where in a teaching scheme this topic should be delivered; it is good practice to ensure that students have a good understanding of DNA structure and protein synthesis before teaching this topic as this will help to minimise possible misconceptions.

In this topic students are expected to be able to explain the impact of the selective breeding of food plants and domestic animals and also be able to describe the main steps in the process of genetic engineering. Students should be able to  explain some of the possible benefits and risks, including practical and ethical considerations, of using gene technology in modern agriculture and medicine.

There is a common misconception amongst GCSE students with how genetic engineering is used in plant breeding and with the potential issues of the use of genetic engineering in this way. Students seem to believe that every maize plant, for example, in a field must be individually genetically engineered and that this therefore is a potential issue due to the time this will take. The process of genetic engineering (genetic modification) needs to be carefully delivered so that students understand the process in plants, animal and bacteria.

Students often confuse genetic engineering and cloning and the difference between the two needs to be highlighted. It is useful for students to undertake activities that require them to compare the two processes. Students often appear unaware that the simplest way to clone a plant involves taking a cutting. 

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