CATEGORY: VCE 3 & 4 Biology


Course Access: Lifetime
Course Overview

Students who are UNABLE to attend our on-site program can still complete or complement their SAC using this course. By watching a series of videos and completing accompanying activities, they will cover the same content covered at Ecolinc. They are also required to print out a double-sided worksheet to answer questions about gel electrophoresis and analyse results from our testing of two foods for genetic modification.

NOTE: Students who are attending the Ecolinc on-site version of this program should NOT attempt this online course as the content will be repeated.


Farmers have been genetically modifying organisms for centuries to encourage specific traits in crops, such as drought resistance or high yield. This has relied on cross breeding between individual plants to obtain the desirable trait in subsequent generations. There is now the option to place genes for selected traits directly into another organism, which is known as genetic modification (GM). These genes do not have to originate from the same plant species or even originate from plants at all.

In Australia, products derived from GM crops for use in processed foods include cotton and canola while non-food crops include blue carnations. Cottonseed oil is produced from GM cotton, and can be found in edible vegetable oils and margarine’s. GM cotton and GM canola are the only GM food products approved to be grown commercially in Australia, although there are several approved for controlled releases. Some imported GM food crop products can be found in processed foods in Australia. There are also GM components in various medications and stock feed. In addition, enzymes from GM sources are used in the creation of some foods such as sugar and cheese, although there are no GM ingredients found in the end product. No fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, fish or agricultural products sold in Australia are GM, other than those listed above. Many people object to the use of GM crop plants while others argue that these crops are actually better for the environment.

Whatever view one holds in the genetically modified organism (GMO) debate, it would be beneficial to be able to test supermarket foods for the presence of GMO derived products. One method could be to use an antibody-based test such as the enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), which can detect the proteins that are produced by GM crops. The ELISA however, is crop specific and is not useful for testing foods that have been highly processed as the proteins will have most likely been destroyed. Another method is to use the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to look for a DNA sequence common to GM foods. Because DNA is more resistant to processing than proteins it can be extracted from highly processed foods. PCR can then be used to identify GM foods.

Year Level: 12

Prior Knowledge: No prior knowledge required.

Course Connection:

Does this course link to other Ecolinc programs?

This course is the current replacement for attending the following on-site program:


Estimated duration: 180 minutes

Learning Intentions:

In this program students will:

  • Learn how to extract DNA from foods
  • Learn how PCR makes copies of the target DNA
  • Discover techniques for setting up, running and staining electrophoresis gels
  • Discover which of the food samples have come from a genetically modified plant

VCE Area of Study:

Biology Unit 3: Outcome 1 SAC

  • Amplification of DNA using polymerase chain reaction and the use of gel electrophoresis in sorting DNA fragments.
  • The use of recombinant plasmids as vectors.
  • The use of genetically modified and transgenic organisms in agriculture to increase crop productivity and to provide resistance to disease.

Course Creator:  David Tait