There’s a debate brewing in France over letting teens perform transgenic labs in the classroom. This has become a common lab in introductory biology courses in college and in many high schools across the United States as well. Scientific supply companies like Biorad sell kits for this type of lab that let you add a plasmid with genes for green fluorescent proteins (as well as a gene for antibiotic resistance to ampicillin) to Escherichia coli bacteria.
When I saw the news article, my eyes nearly bugged out of my head, and I started laughing. My freshmen (14-15 year olds) are performing this lab this week! The debate in France centers around whether 15 and 16 year olds should be allowed to do this.
Certainly I can understand the concern about antibiotic resistant organisms escaping into the environment. The reality is, though, that biotechnology is very interesting to the students, and it gives them a way to associate the abstract knowledge of DNA with something more tangible and practical. What’s the big deal about learning the human genome if you don’t understand what we can then do with that knowledge?
P.S. If you do the pGLO lab or something similar with your students, show them why GFPs are cool by introducing them to some of their uses at the GFP site.