Genes and Chemicals in Agriculture: Value and Risk (BIO 435-435H/535, FS 435-435H/535)

Genes and Chemicals in Agriculture: Value and Risk
3 credits / MCB 535, FS 435-435H / 535, TOX 435-435H / 535, BI 435-435H / 535
Spring Term 2011, Peavy Hall 108
Tuesday/Thursday: 8:30-9:50 AM (lecture) / Tuesday 3:00-3:50 PM (recitation)
Students must sign up for both the lecture and recitation section
Instructors: Dr. Steve Strauss, x7-6578 | Dr. Dave Stone, x7-4433

Prerequisite: Students should have junior, senior or grad student standing, and at least two quarters of introductory biology. Satisfies BCC, Science, Technology & Society

Lecture and Recitation Schedule & Presentations

Lecture presentations will generally not be available until after lectures are completed

Wk Date Topic Instructor
1 Mar 29 Class organization, rationale, goals. GMO and TOX issues Strauss/Stone
Mar 29
REC: Review of DNA basics
Mar 31 Plant genetic engineering methods
2 Apr 5 History of domestication and breeding; green revolution Hayes
Apr 5
REC: Anti-GMO views: What and why
Apr 7 Intellectual property in crop breeding and biotechnology Myers
3 Apr 12 Breeding and genomics concepts, application to animals
Apr 12
REC: Risk perception
Apr 14 Animal biotechnology, cloning, rBST for milk production Harry
4 Apr 19 GMO crops and sustainability Lambrinos
Apr 19
REC: Biomonitoring of environmental chemicals
Apr 21 Gene flow and adventitious presence
5 Apr 26 Toxicology Basics Stone
Apr 26
REC: Ethics
Apr 28 Natural toxins in food and environment
6 May 3 MIDTERM - in class (includes entire text book) Strauss/Stone
May 3
REC: Organic agriculture: How, what and why
May 5 Risk assessment of chemicals Stone
7 May 10 Regulating GMOs, chemicals and pesticides Strauss/Stone
May 10
REC: Videos!: Youtube or other / GMOs and chemical technology is the solution to your problem
May 12 Forest Biotechnology Strauss
8 May 17 Developmental toxicology Tanguay
May 17
REC: Videos!: Youtube or other / GMOs and chemicals are the reason for your problem
May 19 Bt corn and the StarLink saga
9 May 24 Bioreactor crops Strauss
May 24
REC: Biofortification / Golden rice and humanitarian/developing world issues
May 26 Nanotechnology and toxicology Harper
10 May 31 Discussion panel 1: BPA ban/perchlorate regulation Stone/Strauss
May 31
REC: Q and A and review session for final exam / student questions
June 2 Discussion panel 2: Ban or label? GE salmon/Amylase corn
11 June 8 (noon,
Pvy 108)
FINAL EXAM Strauss/Stone

Measurable Student Learning Outcomes:

At the end of the class, students should be able to describe:

Student grades will be determined according to the following breakdown: Final grades for undergraduates, undergraduate honors students, and graduate student grades will be assessed separately.

Apart from the first essay and that we encourage you to email, please submit other essays printed on paper.

For each submission apart from that for the first short essay and the panel presentation:

Undergrads: A minimum of 2, with a maximum of 3, double-spaced pages.

Grad/honors students: A minimum of 3, with a maximum of 4, double-spaced pages. Final paper must be a Wikipedia entry sent via email, as described below.

The first short introductory essay is a maximum of one single-spaced page. For this essay, use it as an opportunity to:

  1. introduce yourself as it relates to the class (education, work, home background) and please insert a photo to help us know who you are,
  2. state why you have taken this class,
  3. summarize your general familiarity with DNA, biotechnology, chemicals, toxicology
  4. state what issues related to the course most interest you, and
  5. state your hopes/goals for learning-i.e., what questions you have, or what knowledge you most hope to obtain via the class to help in your life, career, etc.
  6. No references required.

For the second and third essay, choose any topic of interest to you that is directly related to the class lectures or recitations, and explore it-giving both:

  1. A summary of the general and technical aspects of the issue that cites and summarizes at least three (but no more than six) published, credible references in addition to the course readings, including high quality web pages from scholarly institutions, governments, scientifically credible NGOs, or high quality news outlets (no blogs, Wikipedia, myspace, etc). This should be about 2/3rds of the essay.
  2. Your own insights/views/critique of the issue or reference(s) you have chosen to focus on. This should be about 1/3 of the essay. Use of subheadings to help organize and communicate the logical flow of the essay is highly encouraged.

These essays must be clearly and directly related to the course theme and have not been used for any other courses. Students are urged to contact instructors via email well in advance of the deadline to get approval of their topic if the topic is not clearly related to course subject matter.

Essays will be graded based on technical content (70%) and quality/clarity of writing/organization (30%). Give full literature citations for all sources cited in a consistent, scholarly format with author, year, title, source, web site URL as hot link.

For example:

Strauss, S.H., H. Tan, W. Boerjan, and R. Sedjo. (2009) Strangled at birth? Forest biotech and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Nature Biotechnology 27:519-527.

Citations in the text should have this form: (LASTNAME or INSTITUTION, YEAR), examples: (Stone 2007, Stone and Strauss 2009, Stone et al. 1955, EPA 2004).

See the lecture schedule for essay due dates. Essays will only be accepted up to one week after the deadline date, but their value for class credit will be reduced by 50% if late.

For non-honors undergraduates who have obtained a grade of 90% or above on the mid-term, they may elect to prepare a Wikipedia entry for their third essay, following the instructions below for Wikipedia entries, including obtaining approval at least one week ahead of time.


For "videos" days during recitation on May 10th (mostly pro) and May 17th (mostly anti), please identify one short video clip available on the web, either pro-biotech or anti-biotech (or pro- or anti-chemical), or just good and informative and related to the class themes. Send the URLs and a one line description (subject, length) to Strauss by 5 PM on May 9th indicating its nature (pro or anti or informative). Choose one that you can show most of (or a part of) in less than about 2 minutes. Please avoid any graphic images or language that might offend others. You may wish to team up with one or two other students to show something longer (time extended to max of 6 minutes for three students). After showing it, you will be asked to explain in less than 1 minute why you chose it (funny, informative, ridiculous, etc) and thus its value or lesson. Funny or nutty videos accepted, if they have a goal or you can make a point from them.

Discussion panels

For the discussion panels on May 31st and June 2nd (see web page on panel discussion), before you speak provide a "transcript" with your name on it, the role you are taking on, and what issue you are addressing (BPA ban/perchlorate regulation, GE salmon, amylase corn). The write-ups should be 2 to 3 double spaced pages for the transcript, or 5 to 10 ppt slides if you choose to use powerpoint (ppt) slides for the presentation (please print two slides per page for readability, and use them when you speak). They will be graded in the same way, and have the same lateness policy, as described for essays above.

Wikipedia contribution

The goal of this project is not only to learn and communicate about a new area, but to make the result of your scholarship available to the public globally. Thus, the quality of writing and technical information must be very high. It should also not be redundant with other information already there, or misplaced. It should in most cases become part of already established subject areas or text.

The assignment is to create or modify a Wikipedia entry that is directly related to class subject matter. Submit your proposal via email to instructors by the end of week 5 to get approval before proceeding. Your proposal should include:

  1. A cut/pasted copy, or a screen-print, of the current Wikipedia topic/page most closely related to your proposed contribution (maximum of one page), and the URL link to it.
  2. The proposed new section heading and a 2-3 line description and justification for your planned contribution, and a description of where it will go. It can be a new entry or a modification to an existing entry (describe how you searched for similar entries to avoid redundancy). If you're expanding or revising an existing entry, please explain why you think a modification is needed; reasons might include bias in presentation, incomplete information, out of date information, or incorrect/questionable conclusions. If the subject is not clearly and directly related to class content, please explain why you think there is a direct connection.

After you get approval, write your Wikipedia contribution. Include:

  1. The prior entry (text or screen shot, plus URL) and your justification/explanation for it (from the proposal you submitted)
  2. Then your work with a clear indication of where it will go. When modifying a current entry, provide a version showing new text or revisions you have with color highlights or MS Word revision marks. Submit this assignment as a word document via email by the deadline on the course schedule. The entire word document, including the prior text, should not exceed 4 pages double-spaced, 12 pt font, 1 inch margins.
  3. Your entry must include citations of at least two credible sources, and need to be in the format required by Wikipedia (see links below), with the references after the text.

Grading will be as follows: 1/3 of maximum credit for an approved plan; 1/3 credit for a submitted entry; 1/3 credit if the entry is graded at or above 90% and then actually entered in Wikipedia (send a confirmatory email with the URL). We do not encourage making actual Wikipedia entries for lower grades.

How to edit on Wikipedia: Wikipedia editing tutorial / Wikipedia cheat sheet

Learning resources

All information about this course, including the lecture powerpoints and the readings, will be available from this web site: We will use blackboard ONLY for emails to students. If you wish to know your grade during the class, please email the instructors and we will try to make a projection for you.

Required text:
Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food by Pamela C. Ronald and Raoul W. Adamchak Oxford University Press; ISBN: 978-0-19-530175-5

Required other readings and preparation for quizzes and exams:
There is a rich literature of views and evidence about biotechnology and toxicology issues. Thus, doing the assigned readings is a major part of this course, and keeping up on them during the class is essential for you to understand the materials and lectures, and to take part in the recitation sections (most of which are primarily discussions of readings). To help motivate you do keep up on the readings, we will administer short quizzes using i-clickers at the start of several classes (see the schedule); you are responsible for the readings assigned up to and including the day of the quiz. Emphasis in quizzes and other exams will be on familiarity with concepts, and your ability to cite examples of crops, traits, chemicals, and the attendant issues. Note that you are expected to finish reading the text before the mid-term.

For exams, it is best to look at old exams to get an idea of the level of preparation is needed. When it says "peruse only" you are responsible only for knowing what the document was about, which you can get from scanning the summary, section headings, figures, and tables. You do not need to read the text, but you will need to have scanned the article for 2-3 minutes to get the main points.

Students with Disabilities

"Accommodations are collaborative efforts between students, faculty and Disability Access Services (DAS). Students with accommodations approved through DAS are responsible for contacting the faculty member in charge of the course prior to or during the first week of the term to discuss accommodations. Students who believe they are eligible for accommodations but who have not yet obtained approval through DAS should contact DAS immediately at 737-4098."

Class policy on plagiarism

We will not tolerate cheating, plagiarism, or re-use of essays from other courses. Please see the OSU Statement of Expectations for Student Conduct at:

PLAGIARISM is defined by OSU as "representing the words or ideas of another person or presenting someone else's words, ideas, artistry or data as one's own, or using one's own previously submitted work. Plagiarism includes but is not limited to copying another person's work (including unpublished material) without appropriate referencing, presenting someone else's opinions and theories as one's own, or working jointly on a project and then submitting it as one's own." ( For the sake of this course, plagiarism will be further defined as the inclusion of the majority of a single sentence, or additional written material, from a published source such as a book, article, or web site, or from another student or from another report written by the student for another class, without direct attribution and identification of the material (usually using quotation marks) as coming from that source.