Lesson 2 – Bioengineering and Sustainability

Description: This lesson has 3 elements: a jigsaw team reading activity, a guided case study with questions and a teacher-led section, and a current event writing project. Students gain more knowledge on sustainable fuels and consider the promise of algae and bioengineering through reading, discussion, writing, and presenting their new knowledge. This lesson also includes 2 optional lab experiments on algae and bioremediation as well as environmental effects on gene expression.

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COURSE: Life Science, Environmental Science, Integrated Science, STEM, BioChem

UNIT:  Photosynthesis, Ecology, Biogeochemical Cycling, Genetics

OBJECTIVES: See the Standards Addressed page for information about the published standards and process we use when aligning lessons with NGSS and other Science, Math, Literacy and 21st Century skills). Here is a document that displays all NGSS for this module. In addition to the aligned objectives listed in buttons on the upper-left of this page and in the table below, for this lesson, here is a breakdown of:

What students learn:
  • Students review the basics of the central dogma and apply that knowledge to bioengineering.
  • Students learn what a gene regulatory network is and how it is involved in gene expression.
  • Students explore a current event related to bioengineering and present their findings.


What students do:
  • Students make connections between biofuels, gene regulatory networks, and the central dogma with a jigsaw activity and case studies.
  • Students set up and start data collection for a lab(s) investigating one or more of the following: bioremediation, carbon sequestration, or the effect of the environment on gene expression.
  • Students write and present a paper about a current event relating to the theme of bioengineering and sustainability.
Aligned Next Generation Science Standards
All three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards are addressed in this lesson. Please note that based on what part of this lesson you emphasize with students, you will cover different NGSS to different levels. Based on what is possible, we have listed here and in the buttons on the left the NGSS that are make the most sense to integrate and emphasize with this content. Please note that in the buttons on the left there are more SEPs and CCCs listed than in the chart below. That is because these other SEPs and CCCs are covered when students complete their algae experiments which span the entire length of the module.

Performance expectations:

HS-LS1-1 – Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the structure of DNA determines the structure of proteins, which carry out the essential functions of life through systems of specialized cells.

HS-LS2-7 – Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.

HS-LS3-1 – Ask questions to clarify relationships about the role of DNA and chromosomes in coding the instructions for characteristic traits passed from parents to offspring.

HS-ESS3-4 – Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.

HS-ETS1-3 – Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and tradeoffs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

Science and Engineering Practices

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Crosscutting Concepts

SEP-4: Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution. 

SEP-6: Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

Construct and revise an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

SEP-7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Evaluate the claims, evidence, and/or reasoning behind currently accepted explanations or solutions to determine the merits of arguments. 

SEP-8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Critically read scientific literature adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas or conclusions, and/or to obtain scientific and/or technical information to summarize complex evidence, concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.

LS1.A: Structure and Function

All cells contain genetic information in the form of DNA molecules. Genes are regions in the DNA that contain the instructions that code for the formation of proteins, which carry out most of the work of cells.

LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience

Moreover, anthropogenic changes (induced by human activity) in the environment – including habitat destruction, pollution, introduction of invasive species, overexploitation, and climate change – can disrupt an ecosystem and threaten the survival of some species.

LS3.A: Inheritance of Traits

DNA carries instructions for forming species’ characteristics. Each cell in an organism has the same genetic content, but genes expressed by cells can differ.

ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems

Sustainability of human societies and of the biodiversity that supports them requires responsible management of natural resources, including the development of technologies.

CCC-2: Cause and Effect

Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human-designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the systems. 

CCC-6: Structure and Function

The functions and properties of natural and designed objects and systems can be inferred from their overall structure, the way their components are shaped and used, and the molecular substructures of their various materials.

CCC-7: Stability and Change

Feedback (negative or positive) can stabilize or destabilize a system.


TIME: 2-3 50 minute class periods depending on optional activities.

PREREQUISITES: Before class, students should be familiar with DNA and how it contains our genotypes, transcription and translation in the central dogma (DNA→RNA→Protein), and general knowledge about carbon cycling.


This lesson has 3 elements: a jigsaw team reading activity, a guided case study with questions and a teacher-led section, and a current event writing project. Introduce the lesson by reminding students of the stakes set up in lesson 1 – the need for sustainable fuels, the promise of algae and bioengineering – and explain that they are going to gain more knowledge through reading, discussion, writing, and presenting their new knowledge. Use this Powerpoint to share the objectives and agenda for this lesson. This lesson also includes 2 optional lab experiments on algae and bioremediation as well as environmental effects on gene expression.


There are four articles for this activity. Students should be in groups of 4 or 5. One (or two) student(s) from each group will go to each “expert group” to read and analyze their article, then return to their “home group” to report their findings. Print enough copies of each article for each expert group.

Place students in their “home groups” and either assign or have students choose one of the four articles:

Direct students to join their expert groups and pass out copies of the articles. Depending on your class size, these groups might be quite large, so you could subdivide them into smaller groups if that works better. Give students at least 20 minutes to read, highlight, annotate, and discuss their articles, answering the questions as they go. They should discuss every question and add to their answers as they learn from their classmates. Circulate, reminding students that they are going to be the experts on their reading and they need to be prepared to share the ideas they learn with their home group.

When students are finished, move them back into their home groups. All students should turn to the Venn Diagram page of their handouts. Depending on the level of your students, remind them of some key group work principles – take turns contributing, listen respectfully, ask each other questions. Have students read the directions on the Venn Diagram page then begin filling it in.

OPTIONAL: Teams could make a larger version of the Venn Diagram on a poster, whiteboard or Jamboard, using post-its for their facts or ideas. This would allow them to move the facts from one region of the diagram to another. Then you can have students go through a gallery walk, or choose one or two groups to share their final diagram.

Depending on time, you could lead a whole-class discussion about some of the major ideas to rise from these four readings, and answer any questions or misconceptions you noticed during the activity. You could also show the answer key for the Venn diagram to ensure everyone got all of the broad ideas, and encourage students to add any new ideas to their own diagrams.


In this activity, students will read through a case study (Google Doc | MS Word) about a fictional “Jamie” who gets curious about biofuels and communicates with Jake Valenzuela (a Research Scientist at the ISB) to learn more. Throughout, students will answer several questions that will help them apply what they are reading about and think about the implications.

This activity could be done many ways. You could assign Parts I through IV for homework and then discuss them in class. Part V is teacher-led using these Slides (Google | PowerPoint) as the questions become higher level. You could have students work individually on one section at a time, annotating the readings, answering the questions, then sharing their answers with a team or the whole class and adding to their answers. Regardless, after Parts I through IV are complete, bring all students together to discuss and answer the questions in Part V.


This assignment (Google Doc | MS Word) could take place in class, at home, or a mixture, depending on your students and time requirements. Students will perform research to identify an article on a current topic related to bioengineering. Provide resources needed to complete this research – laptops, library access, etc. Suggested links to sources are provided on the handout, but students can look beyond this list. Encourage them to critically evaluate source reliability. After they have read and understood their article, they will write a short paper in two parts – Summary and Analysis.

When students’ papers are complete, you could have them do a quick share with a partner or team about their topic, or have students present to the whole class – whatever works best in your classroom. Students should turn in their papers to be graded using the provided rubric.


You completed Instructional Activities. Please move to Assessment


How will I know they know……




ELL students may benefit from a vocabulary list and peer notes that correspond with the module.