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National Agriculture in the Classroom

Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

Companion Resource

Genetic Engineering in Crops (Grades 6-8)

In addition to selective breeding, genetic engineering tools such as transgenics and CRISPR gene editing can be used by plant breeders to solve agricultural challenges. Plants can be engineered to be more nutritious, more resistent to pests, drought tolerant, etc. This activity challenges students to match several crops and the challenges faced in growing them to potential solutions that could be reached with genetic engineering.

Time to Complete
45 minutes

*Create the Genetic Engineering in Crops card set for each group of students by copying them on mailing labels; then attach the labels to 3 x 5 index cards. For longer lasting cards, laminate. Alternatively you can print on cardstock and cut them apart. Making sets in different colors will help keep the sets together.

  1. Ask your class these questions:
    • How are scientists using genetic engineering to improve the food that we eat? (Possible answer: The genes from one organism can be added to the same kind of organism or to another kind of organism to make the plants more nutritious or resistant to disease.)
    • Imagine that scientists can edit DNA as easily as correcting typos on a computer. What impact do you think this would have on the food that we eat? (It may be easier to change a plant’s genes with targeted genome editing methods (such as the CRISPR-Cas system) than with non-targeted modification methods such as selective breeding, chemical or UV methods, and rDNA methods.)
    • What advancements could you expect to see in agriculture in the next 5 years? (Some responses could include: more changes in the plants we eat, more varieties of plants that we eat, Plants could become more nutritious or more resistant to pests, our environment might be better because plants could be changed to reduce the need for certain pesticides.)
  2. Give each student a copy of the Genetic Engineering worksheet.
  3. For background information, watch three videos:
  4. Divide the class into small groups. Give each group one set of Genetic Engineering in Crops cards that have been shuffled. Explain that there are two parts to the card set: half of the cards have descriptions of crop problems; the other half have potential solutions. Their task is to match each Crop Problem card with a Possible Solution card.
  5. As each card is read, students should discuss it with their group. When the group thinks they have the correct match, they should share with the teacher.
  6. Once everyone has successfully matched their cards, each person should complete the Genetic Engineering Student Worksheet using a short description of each crop problem and possible solution in his or her own words.
  7. Optional Extension: Each student or small group could select one crop problem and its possible solution for further research to learn more about the science techniques used and the people who benefit from the GE crop. Students could then present the additional information to the class.


Genetic engineering is the use of modern techniques, including recombinant DNA methods, to modify the genetic information in an organism. It allows for faster trait selection than selective breeding, and can enhance the development of plant cultivars to help address some challenges. Genome editing techniques like CRISPR-Cas are powerful tools that scientists can use to target specific locations in the genome for editing (add, remove, or modify a gene to increase or decrease its expression) and thus change the traits of that organism. The promise and challenges that genome editing systems hold for agriculture are currently unknown. But, based on the results we have now, it is exciting to think about crops of the future and what they might be able to do.

FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

This activity is part of the Science and Our Food Supply: Exploring Food Agriculture and Biotechnology (2020) curriculumFind more classroom activities for middle and high school on the Matrix.

Lessons Associated with this Resource