Saturday, May 22, 2010

First Species whose parent is a computer!

If that's all you heard, "This is the first self-replicating species we've had on this planet whose parent is a computer.", what would you think? Would you be concerned about the end of mankind? Inevitable doom? Would you think about the potential for good? The cure for diseases, or a species that eats oil, maybe? Would you worry that it would become an invasive species that we couldn't stop, or would you be full of hope for Alzheimer patients and cancer patients and diabetics?

What would your students feel?

How advanced is science? Well, when they became concerned that they wouldn't be able to distinguish real DNA from synthetic DNA they decided to put "watermarks" in the synthetic DNA. Let that sink in a bit.

How's this for a writing prompt idea? This video is not likely to keep many high school students awake, but your favorite science teacher can easily explain it to the students well enough to have them understand what's going on. Then, let them brainstorm about possible good results of this technology and then possible bad results. Bring those lists together, then ask them to write a paragraph or two about where they stand on the idea. Provide a rubric on what you're looking for in the assignment, of course, and let them write.

Here's the video:

1 comment:

JohnBr said...

Jim, I think that your idea of using the TED video at a motivation for students to analyze a very complex issue and discuss it with their teachers and peers is great. I have a concern, however, that the lesson would culminate with the students taking a "stand" on the issue. In America today, it seems that every issue, no matter how complex, has to be dichotomous with one camp being for and one against. Once a person has taken a "stand," no matter how prematurely, they rarely change their opinion and seek only evidence that supports it.

Clearly, the creation of a synthetic cell is at the earliest stage of a new realm of science. I think that we should encourage our students not to jump to conclusions but to learn as much about this as possible and to follow how it develops so they fully understand the implications, both pro and con, before making a decision.

Interestingly, the Roman Catholic Church, which vehemently opposes Embryonic STEM Cell Research, voiced support for the development of the synthetic cell. It might be interesting to have students examine the rationale for what might be interpreted as a contradictory position.

Also, I would hope that students would be asked to investigate the ethical analysis conducted by Penn State. That would provide an interesting local connection.