Tags: Creative learning | Enrichment Activities for G&T Pupils | Well-being

Thinking about the humanitarian impact of genetic modification and how science fiction can become fact

This week’s primary enrichment activity looks at the benefits of genetic modification, using examples from scientific research to use genetic technology to prevent the spread of malaria and combat famine.

This week’s secondary enrichment activity considers the life and work of science fiction writer Sir Arthur C Clarke, getting pupils to look at some of the predictions he made for the future and how many of them have now become a reality.

***Primary Enrichment***

KS2: Ideas and evidence in science.

Pupils should be taught:

  • that science is about thinking creatively to try to explain how living and non-living things work, and to establish links between causes and effects [for example, Jenner’s vaccination work]
  • that it is important to test ideas using evidence from observation and measurement.


Rapidly increasing food prices and a world shortage of grain is increasing the pressure on food companies and consumers. The pressures, although essentially financial, are also emotional, as the need to accept genetically modified foodstuffs increases. Kato Kagaku, a Japanese maker of corn starch and corn syrup told the New York Times:

‘In Japan and South Korea, some manufacturers for the first time have begun buying genetically engineered corn for use in soft drinks, snacks and other foods. Until now, to avoid consumer backlash, the companies have paid extra to buy conventionally grown corn. But with prices having tripled in two years, it has become too expensive to be so finicky.’

Sea cucumbers are creatures that live on the ocean floor and, although at the moment there is not a worldwide shortage of these creatures, they are in line for genetic modification. They are a slug-like creature which produces a protein, lectin, that can impair the normal development, and therefore transmission, of the malaria parasite. Professor Sanjeev Krishna, an expert in malaria at St George’s Hospital Medical School, London said:

‘Ultimately, one aim of our field is to find a way of genetically engineering mosquitoes so that the malaria parasite cannot develop inside them.’

With an increase in temperatures in Central Europe, the appearance of malaria is a real possibility. Millions of people may die if a satisfactory medical treatment or preventative procedure is not established very quickly. Scientists in the US say they have created a genetically engineered ‘supercarrot’ that provides extra calcium. They hope that adding the vegetable to a normal diet could help ward off conditions such as brittle bone disease and osteoporosis. Professor Susan Fairweather-Tait of the University of East Anglia said:

‘There has been great resistance to genetic engineering, but gradually we are moving away from the spectre of “Frankenstein food” and starting to appreciate the health benefits it may bring’.

Some questions for your pupils to consider and discuss:

What genetic modifications would children suggest for the following plants that would both increase their food value and provide an added medical benefit?

Plant or part of a plant to be genetically modified Added nutritional benefit Added medical benefit

Ask children to explain and defend the additional benefits they propose. Which diseases do they think it will be important to control? What food shortages do they think are going to be most serious?


Predicting the development of supervegetables.

Going further

The orange-coloured carrot with which we are so familiar is the result of a nationalistically inspired form of genetic engineering. Produced in the seventeenth century by Dutch growers, the established purple colour of the ‘natural’ carrot was changed to orange, the colour of the Dutch national flag. Ask the children to consider which vegetable they would genetically alter to show the colours of their national flag. Let the children draw their thoughts. Discussion could then follow about the choices made and the modifications they suggest. They could also discuss what makes a particular vegetable suitable to be a patriotic symbol.

Read about sea cucumbers

Read the full ‘supercarrot’ story

Read ‘In Lean Times, Biotech Grains Are Less Taboo’ from the New York Times

Does it really matter what food looks like? Look at this site on the appearance of fast food.

Learning and teaching Scotland

Teaching, Learning and Assessing Science. It is essential to consider the pupils’ ideas as the starting point for science activities.

International Baccalaureate

Primary Years Programme. Curriculum framework. How the world works.

***Secondary Enrichment***

KS4: English. Writing to analyse, review, comment.

  • reflect on the nature and significance of the subject matter
  • form their own view, taking into account a range of evidence and opinions
  • organise their ideas and information, distinguishing between analysis and comment
  • take account of how well the reader knows the topic

What do we want to know?

The visionary science fiction writer Sir Arthur C Clarke died recently. He was 90 and during his long life had made an incredible contribution to developing the time that we live in now and the future that continues to develop around us. Arthur C Clarke had an imagination of unusual scale. His predictions for the future anticipated space shuttles, satellite communications, advanced computers, cryogenic preservation of human brains and the necessity of guarding against meteorite impacts on Earth. What Arthur C Clarke imagined has in many cases become the facts of our lives.

Some questions for the young people involved in this activity to consider and discuss:

Ask them to find the websites below and then to read, consider and discuss the material they find. Clearly, some of the material will be familiar, such as the article about communication satellites. Other ideas will be less familiar, such as the ‘space elevator’.

Read about the space elevator

Read about the space guard

Read about atomic travel

Read about the brain backup

Read about communication satellites

Read about earthquake prevention

Read about people freezing

Often the challenge when trying to understand a complex subject is to see beyond the idea that everything is known and understood. Ask the young people taking part in the activity to imagine they have been cataloguing the papers of the late Arthur C Clarke and have found an unpublished short story written by him − his last story, finished hours before his death. The title of the story is ‘What do we want to know?’ In no more than 2001 words, ask those taking part to write a synopsis of the story.


Considering the final thoughts of Arthur C Clarke.

Going further

The main activity will result in a collection of ideas, which, collected together, will provide the basis for a fascinating article or short story. Write the article or story and find a publisher. Failing this, the works and ideas raised through this activity could provide the basis for a school-wide ‘future blog’ where ideas are shared about the social consequences of scientific and technological advances.

Learning and teaching Scotland

English language.

  • Communicating: for example, receiving and expressing ideas and information; playing; reformulating ideas and information; arguing; persuading; debating; performing in speech and writing; reporting.
  • Thinking: for example, speculating; hypothesizing; discovering; reflecting; generalizing; synthesizing; classifying; evaluating.
  • Feeling: for example, describing, reflecting on and considering their own feelings and those of others; dealing with emotional complexities; coping with conflicts between values and feelings; achieving resolutions.
  • Making: for example, stories, poems, letters, reports and scripts, graphics, sound and video recordings.

International Baccalaureate. Diploma Programme curriculum

Group 1: language A1 In studying their first language, students are able to develop:

  • a personal appreciation of the literature
  • skills in literary criticism
  • strong written and oral skills
  • respect for the literary heritage of their first language
  • an international perspective.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2008

About the author: John Senior is the author of Enrichment Activties for G&T Pupils. He is a teacher with 26 years’ experience of teaching Gifted and Talented children, working with parents and carers as a consultant on high ability, and peer mentoring.