Bioengineering a Sustainable World

Unit Plan

Course: Environmental Science, Biology, Integrated Science, Biotechnology and/or STEM courses


In this unit, students learn about and use green algae to pursue solutions to complex issues such as climate change. Students will experiment using microalgae and ultimately learn how biotech and bioengineering can be applied for sustainability. This curriculum module can be used by high school teachers to instruct students about advances in sustainable practices through the lens of green biotechnology. The module teaches students how microalgae can potentially supplement aspects of petroleum consumption with renewable sources of bio-energy and bio-products. Included are videos, case studies, and activities to teach students systems thinking at multiple scales, from global biogeochemical cycles to gene regulation.

What Students Learn
  • Students learn how petroleum can be used to make products and how algae can also be used to make similar products.
  • Students access prior knowledge on the carbon cycle and apply it along with new research to create a network of carbon emissions relevant to their local community.
  • 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.
  • The definition and function of a gene regulatory network, including how it can be controlled with operons.
  • Students access prior knowledge on genotypes to phenotypes and apply that knowledge to the topics of gene regulatory networks and bioengineering.
  • How to apply math to bioengineering scenarios in the form of scaling to predict resource allocation and cost.
  • About the process of building their own hypothetical biotech company and work to produce a presentation worthy of funding.
  • The basics of the CRISPR/cas9 system as an example of biotechnology that can be used to create organisms engineered to aid in mitigating carbon emissions.
What Students Do
  • Students brainstorm ways in which our current fuel economy benefits from petroleum oil and how we could benefit from algae oil as well.
  • Students create a network using vocabulary terms related to the carbon cycle to show how carbon is cycling in their local area.
  • 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.
  • Students will form connections between genotypes and phenotypes including examples of how the environment can affect gene expression.
  • Students will present a skit representing one of two main forms of control–positive and negative, in operons.
  • Students model CRISPR as an example of a bioengineering tool used to modify genomes in order to create desired phenotypes.
  • Students apply mathematics to solve problems related to scaling in order to create a product that could potentially replace a petroleum-fueled product.
  • Students produce a proposal for a biotech company that uses bioengineering to work towards sustainability, applying all of their knowledge gained during the unit. and present their proposal.
Pacing Guide:

This approximately 2-week long unit consists of 4 (multi-day) lessons designed for 50-minute periods. The algae experiments can continue beyond the 2-week window.

Lesson 1 Carbon Footprints (1-2 class periods)
Main Question: How can we bioengineer a sustainable world?

Lesson 2 Bioengineering and Sustainability (2-3 class periods)
Main Question: How can we harness the power of cellular algae machines?

Lesson 3 Bioengineering and Gene Regulation (1-2 class periods)
Main Question: How can we regulate what genotype leads to a specific phenotype?

Lesson 4 Solutions and Sustainability (2-3 class periods)
Main Question: How can biotech companies use bioengineering tools for sustainability?

Career Connections – Coming Soon:

This module also connects with many exciting STEM careers such as bioengineer, green product designer, and biochemist. We will be updating these lessons in the coming months with career connected activities that are woven into each of the above lessons in order to provide a cohesive way to teach students about unique STEM careers. For a general overview of how to bring Career Connections to your students, view this Career Connections Overview page and our main Systems Thinkers in STEM page.


          • All documents and files for each Lesson are found within the lesson links listed above. You can complete these lessons without any special equipment. For the lab experiments, you can also use inexpensive equipment and/or can culture your own algae from the natural environment.


Unit Assessment:

The culminating project guides students through planning to start their own Biotech Startup. Students can stretch their creative muscles and think about a way to use all the principles they have learned during this unit to propose an exciting new biotech company.


Except where otherwise noted, the Bioengineering A Sustainable World module, copyright Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) through Baliga Systems Education Experiences, is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  All logos, trademarks, and videos are property of their respective owners. This resource may contain links to websites operated by third parties. These links are provided for your convenience only and do not constitute or imply any endorsement or monitoring by ISB or ISB’s funding agencies. Please confirm the license status of any third-party resources and understand their terms of use before reusing them.