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6 Science Articles about Gene Editing

What happens when scientists change organisms’ biological instructions? This collection of adapted research articles introduces students to research on gene editing. Challenge them to explore deadly diseases, improve human health, and investigate new genetically modified crops (GMOs). Engage students with standards-matched adaptations, introductory video content, comprehension questions, and vocabulary to further your lesson outcomes. Each adapted article also comes with additional suggestions for activities to enhance the readers’ understanding and make the class more exciting.

View the full collection of gene editing articles here, or scroll down to learn about some featured articles.

1. Can we use bacteria to make renewable rocket fuel?

Abstract: NASA’s space shuttle has to reach speeds of almost 18,000 miles per hour (29,000 kilometers per hour) in only 8.5 minutes. That’s necessary for it to reach outer space. That’s 300 times faster than a car traveling at 60 mph (97 km/h)! To reach these speeds, rockets need particularly high-energy fuels. It’s the same for airplanes and cargo ships, too. At the moment, these high-energy fuels are made using petroleum – a fossil fuel, and the leading cause of global climate change. So, there’s an urgent need for scientists to develop more sustainable high-energy fuels. We explored whether bacteria could make molecules we could turn into high-energy biofuels. We looked into bacterial DNA and used clever chemistry to produce new biofuels using Streptomyces bacteria. These “POP biofuels” seem to be even better (higher energy) than the current petroleum-made rocket fuels!

This article is suitable for elementary school, middle school, and high school students. It is available for both upper and lower reading levels, as well as a written translation in Spanish. There are audio versions in both English and Spanish.

  • Key terms: biotechnology, climate change, genetics, microbiology, renewable energy, space travel
  • Scientific figure: bar graph, pictograph
  • Scientific method: experiment, gene editing, PCR (polymerase chain reaction)

2. Can a spray make our crops better?

Abstract: Did you know that the first genetically modified crop was a tomato with delayed ripening? Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been around for decades now. And they offer a lot of benefits, such as an increased food supply, resistance to diseases, and more. Yet there are a few downsides as well. Producing them takes a lot of time and is often expensive. Plus, many people have concerns about their safety, since they include foreign DNA in their genome. But what if we can alter the crops without changing their genome? We tried using bioactive molecules which can change cell activity. To insert them into the plant cells we tested sprays with nanocarriers. It turned out to be a success! Many nanocarriers were able to penetrate the plant cells. We also successfully inserted bioactive molecules in the cells through spraying. In this way the cell could express a new gene or silence an existing one.

This article is suitable for elementary school, middle school, and high school students. It is available for both upper and lower reading levels, as well as a written translation in Spanish. There are audio versions in both English and Spanish.

  • Key terms: biotechnology, farming, food security, genetics, molecular biology, plants
  • Scientific figure: microscopy image, pictograph
  • Scientific method: agricultural yield data, experiment, fluorescence imaging, gene editing, microscopy

3. How can we use genetic engineering to get rid of malaria for good?

Abstract: Nobody likes the buzzing sound or itchy bite of mosquitoes. But mosquito bites (only females bite, by the way!) are not just irritating: they can carry and spread deadly diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever and many more. Every year, millions of people die from mosquito-borne diseases and most of them are young children. There are ways to get rid of mosquitoes and prevent such diseases, but they are not as effective as we would like. What if we used genetic engineering? Here we modified the genetic makeup of Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes (the main carriers of malaria). The mutation prevented females from biting and laying eggs. It spread through our caged populations quickly and drove them extinct. Our results pave the way for lowering mosquito populations in the wild and getting rid of malaria in the future.

This article is suitable for high school students.

  • Key terms: biotechnology, genetics, infectious diseases, malaria, molecular biology, mosquitoes, vector borne diseases
  • Scientific figure: pictograph, time series graph
  • Scientific method: CRISPR, data validation, experiment, gene editing, scientific modeling

4. How can gene editing cure disease?

Abstract: Did you know that the cell copies 50 nucleotides (letters of DNA code) per second when it is dividing? And it only makes one mistake per 100 million nucleotides! That’s like copying the full 32 volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica twelve times and only making one typo! Most times even these mistakes are caught and fixed. But sometimes a mutation (mistake in the code) gets passed on. In eggs and sperm that means an unborn baby will get one bad copy of that gene. In most cases, even this is okay. The baby is a carrier of a bad copy of the gene, but often the good copy from the other parent will work well enough. In rare cases, though, a baby may receive a bad copy from both parents. This means they will have a genetic disease. There are several diseases that are caused by a single nucleotide mutation. Scientists have always wanted to use genetic editing to correct the bad part of the gene. We found a way to do it in real, live mice!

This article is suitable for high school students. A written translation is available in Korean.

  • Key terms: biotechnology, genetics, molecular biology
  • Scientific figure: box and whisker plot
  • Scientific method: DNA sequencing, experiment, fluorescence imaging, gene editing

5. Can we write biological “software updates” to cure disease?

Abstract: Did you know that each of the trillions of cells in your body makes decisions at every moment of the day? While cells do not have brains, they do have molecular sensors that tell them what to do if a certain molecule or signal is present around them. This makes them similar to a computer program: input – in, response – out. Unfortunately, just as a buggy software code can make a computer malfunction, sometimes bad genetic code inside our cells causes them to respond in a way that is bad for the body. A cancer cell, for example, has a broken code causing it to grow despite signals to shut down. Scientists have long sought to develop gene therapy – a way to fix or replace a damaged or missing gene within a person’s genome. Our team approached this challenge in a new way: we engineered something called a protein circuit and it seemed to work! 

This article is suitable for high school students.

  • Key terms: biotechnology, cancer, genetics, molecular biology
  • Scientific figure: flow chart
  • Scientific method: experiment, gene editing

6. How can we save bananas from a deadly disease?

Abstract: Have you ever wondered why all bananas in supermarkets look alike and taste exactly the same? Because almost all exported bananas (Musa spp) are of a single cultivar, the Cavendish. Every single Cavendish is genetically identical; basically, they are all clones! So what? Cavendish bananas are under a threat from a disease called Panama disease, also known as Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 (TR4) that is caused by a fungus. It is spreading very fast and has already destroyed many plantations in Asia and Australia and has recently spread to the Middle East and Africa. This is because Cavendish bananas do not have an active gene to fight off TR4. However, a wild banana from Indonesia does – the RGA2 gene. Here, we added the RGA2 gene to Cavendish plants and tested them in fields infested with TR4. Three years later, some of these genetically modified (GM) plants resisted the fungus and stayed disease-free. That means we may have found a solution to control TR4 and help millions of people who rely on bananas for food and income.

This article is suitable for high school students.

  • Key terms: banana, biotechnology, food security, fungi, genetics, molecular biology, plants
  • Scientific figure: bar graph
  • Scientific method: experiment, field study, gene editing

That’s Not All!

Check out all of our adapted research articles on Gene Editing, or find related content in our collections on GeneticsFood & Agriculture, and Health & Medicine.

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