Category Archives: DNA tools and techniques

Genetically Modified Organisms

Our last Area of Study in Unit 4 Biology is: 

“How do Humans impact on biological processes?”

Key knowledge: 

DNA manipulation:
• the use of enzymes including endonucleases (restriction enzymes), ligases and polymerases
• amplification of DNA using the polymerase chain reaction
• the use of gel electrophoresis in sorting DNA fragments, including interpretation of gel runs
• the use of recombinant plasmids as vectors to transform bacterial cells.

Biological knowledge and society:
• techniques that apply DNA knowledge (specifically gene cloning, genetic screening and DNA profiling) including social and ethical implications and issues
• the distinction between genetically modified and transgenic organisms, their use in agriculture to increase crop productivity and to provide resistance to insect predation and/or disease, and the biological, social and ethical implications that are raised by their use
• strategies that deal with the emergence of new diseases in a globally connected world, including the distinction between epidemics and pandemics, the use of scientific knowledge to identify the pathogen, and the types of treatments
• the concept of rational drug design in terms of the complementary nature (shape and charge) of small molecules that are designed to bind tightly to target biomolecules (limited to enzymes) resulting in the enzyme’s inhibition and giving rise to a consequential therapeutic benefit, illustrated by the Australian development of the antiviral drug Relenza as a neuraminidase inhibitor
• the use of chemical agents against pathogens including the distinction between antibiotics and antiviral drugs with reference to their mode of action and biological effectiveness.

Genetically modified organisms – 

Insect resistant (‘Bt’) cotton

Insect resistant (‘Bt’) corn

Herbicide tolerant (‘Roundup ready’) canola

Iron-fortified wheat

Golden rice

Drought-tolerant wheat

‘Round up’ resistant soy beans

Chapter 13 – DNA tools and techniques

Image source

Genetic tools (Restriction enzymes, ligases and DNA probes and primers): These tools are used as genetic scissors (restriction enzymes), genetic glue (ligases – to stick DNA fragments together) and genetic markers (probes that recognise and attach to specific sequences of DNA with a fluorescent or radioactive marker) Gene Technology video (1 of 6)  (YouTube, 9.05min)

DNA amplification: Using a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) researchers can create many copies of DNA in a test tube. Access the Image Source link for a self-paced Virtual Laboratory activity that demonstrates the process of PCR using animations. Gene Technology video (2 of 6)  (YouTube, 9.54min)

Gel Electrophoresis: This technique is used to separate fragments of DNA according to their size – longer fragments with a large number of base pairs travel more slowly through the substrate (agarose gel), while shorter fragments with a smaller number of base pairs travel a greater distance. A buffer solution is added to the apparatus and DNA fragments are ‘cut’ at specific sites using restriction enzymes and loaded, together with a fluorescent dye, in ‘wells’ at the negative end of the apparatus.  An electric charge is applied and the negatively charged DNA fragments are attracted to the positive end of the gel matrix. Gel Electrophoresis on YouTube. and Gene technology (3 of 6) (YouTube, 9.41min)

DNA recombination: Scientists are able to insert fragments of DNA from one organism into another organism, bringing together genetic material from various sources. Recombinant DNA produces genetically modified organisms, that may add desirable characteristics to food crops, for example

DNA sequencing: DNA sequencing is the process of determining the precise order of nucleotides within a DNA molecule. DNA Sequencing on YouTube.  and Gene technology (4 of 6) (YouTube, 9.59min) and Gene Technology (5 of 6) (YouTube, 6.53)

DNA profiling: Also called DNA fingerprinting, this technique compares DNA from victims, suspects and crime scenes to determine which samples have the most in common. How does DNA fingerprinting work from the Naked Science Scrapbook (YouTube). 

Gene cloning: Molecular cloning is a set of experimental methods in molecular biology that are used to assemble recombinant DNA molecules and to direct their replication within host organisms. Gene cloning in plain English on YouTube. 

Genetic screening: Used to identify  genetic disorders or potential risk of disease. For example, when a family has a history of females suffering from breast cancer, a genetic screening test can identify the presence or absence of a particular gene that indicates susceptibility to this cancer. Pro-active treatment may include removal of the breasts to prevent the disease. 

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and transgenic organisms: When genetic engineering is used to insert specific sequences of DNA into host organisms.

Gene transformation: “In molecular biology, transformation is the genetic alteration of a cell resulting from the direct uptake, incorporation and expression of exogenous genetic material (exogenous DNA) from its surrounding and taken up through the cell membrane.” Bacterial transformation by zabaaz on YouTube.

VCE Genetics


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In Chapter 9, you learned about genes, chromosomes and patterns of inheritance, including genotypes and phenotypes, multiple alleles, dominant and recessive genes and co-dominance.

In Chapter 10, you learned about the nature, structure and organisation of the genetic material (DNA), including Mendels’ discoveries with pea plants and the genetic code.

In Chapter 11, you learned about genes in action – replication, transcription and translation to produce the proteins that make up all living organisms.

Chapter 12 is all about the tools and techniques we use to investigate and alter the DNA of organisms – DNA profiling and paternity testing, gene transfer and genetically modified organisms. These processes are newly discovered and there is still community debate about their use. It is important to consider the ethical issues surrounding genetic technologies, as our legal system lags behind scientific knowledge and practice. For example, the recent birth of an IVF baby to a 63 year old woman has made headlines in Australia – she was treated overseas, because the procedure is against the law for women over 53 in this country.


Welcome Back – Term 3!


Year 12 students will be counting down the next 14 weeks until their VCE Biology exam on the morning of Friday 30th October. We will start this term with a review of the structure of DNA, using the GTAC resources, “Exploring the structure of DNA“.

On Wednesday 22nd July we will be heading to the University of Melbourne Genetics Department to complete three practical activities that will contribute to your school-based assessment:

  1. An investigation using a DNA tool and a manipulation technique
  2. An investigation of inheritance in Drosophila melanogaster including a review of meiosis in gamete formation
  3. Meiosis in Drosophila

On Friday 4th September you will have the opportunity to travel to Brauer College and participate in GTAC outreach program, “From Hominoids to Hominins”.

On Tuesday 13th October you will be able to attend a “Get into Genes” program as revision prior to your exam.

Human intervention in evolution


Humans have had an influence on evolutionary processes for much longer than you may have thought – we have tamed wolves and wild cats to become the many breeds of domestic dogs and cats that share our homes today and we have selected cattle, sheep, goats and pigs over many generations for food characteristics. Our main food crops such as rice, corn, wheat, as well as many fruit and vegetables, are very different to their wild ancestors.

Artificial selection, or selective breeding, is the process by which humans breed other animals and plants for particular traits; for example, increased size, fast muscle growth or sweeter taste. This can be a deliberate process, like when farmers choose to breed animals or plants with particular characteristics or it can be accidental. In Asia and Africa, over many centuries, bull elephants with particularly large tusks have been targeted as trophies and for their valuable ivory. As a consequence, individuals with large tusks produce fewer offspring and become less frequent in the population. (Read more about elephant evolution here and here).

In more recent times, due to greater understanding of genetic inheritance and modern gene technology, we have been able to identify specific genes that code for particular characteristics and create new breeds of organisms with beneficial traits – drought tolerance, increased productivity or improved storage life, for example.

Play the videos from ABC Splash “Genetic Engineering of Crops”

Some sites that may be useful for your research project: