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The GMO Debate Science and Society
University Course

What other students say:

  • Having four well-established professors in different disciplines related to the issue was extremely useful. Multiple professors allowed for better fact checking and stimulated discussion greatly.

  • This class was the most challenging one I had and I absolutely loved it. It was very helpful and extremely dynamic. Congratulations to all the professors.

  • Great course about a truly interesting and important topic

  • This course exceeded my expectations. It was GREAT. I learned so much and have a totally new perspective on not only the GMO debate but also the relationship between science and society in general. Thank you!
  • BIOPL4303 | CSS4303 | GOVT4303 | BSOC4303 | STAS4303
  • Fall 2013
  • Tuesdays: 1:25-2:40 p.m., Thursdays: THURSDAY 1:25-3:50 p.m.
  • Syllabus
  • Poster
  • Some GMO images to get you thinking

The GMO Debate Science and Society is a senior capstone/graduate level course. It has also received the official designation of a University Course. It is also open to advanced juniors with instructor's permission.

It is open to students in any major or discipline who have an interest in the topic. It has no pre-requisites beyond an ability to analyze and interpret often-conflicting information, and synthesize this information into in-depth term papers and presentations.

Course Description

'GMO' is the political framing of some aspects of biotechnology, the broad term for tools used to alter living organisms for human purposes. Genetic engineering (recombinant DNA technology) is one class of methods now in use. Social movements have arisen to block both the testing and commercializing of rDNA products, positing a spectrum of negative consequences. Objections center on the issues of food sovereignty, ownership of transgenic traits and the genetic background in which they are placed (intellectual property), environmental uncertainties/risks, control of the food supply by multinational corporations and human health. Students will evaluate prominent arguments and political positions in relation to scientific findings and cultural norms. We seek to understand precisely the dimensions and dynamics of contention: what is at stake? Why does the controversy reach global dimensions? What are the concrete interests involved? Who wins and why? Students will learn how biotech crops are developed, and how regulatory systems assess their human and environmental safety, before diving into the controversy.

Course Objectives

To enable students to understand the scientific background about GMO crops and food, to objectively assess claims made in the media and on the internet, to present cogent reports on the science, government regulation and social attitudes, and to defend their viewpoints with well-referenced, reasoned arguments both verbally and in writing.

Course Time and Location

The course will have two lectures/ presentations/all class discussions per week at 1:25 to 2:40pm Tuesday and Thursday in 404 Plant Science Building. Following the Thursday class we will break into two smaller groups for more in depth discussion 2:55-3:45pm (rooms to be determined)

Questions Examined

The course not only explains the science but analyzes the situation round the world, from adoption and utilization, to rules, the public reaction and opposition.

  • What are GMO crops?
  • How are they made?
  • What characteristics have been incorporated?
  • What might be done in the future?
  • What are the objections?
  • What are reactions worldwide?
  • Are GMO crops safe as food or for the environment?
  • Have they been tested?
  • How are GMO crops regulated?
  • Which groups oppose GMO crops and why?
  • How are GMO crops impacting trade?
  • Are companies that create GMO crops beneficial or evil?
  • Should GMO foods be labeled?

Course Faculty

The course is given by four faculty from different disciplines who bring different expertise to the subject:

There will be several guest faculty and outside speakers addressing issues of the expertise.


There are no exams, but students will be expected to do a reasonable amount of reading, as well watch some movies and video clips, and examine claims on web sites. Assignments will consist of half to one page comments on the readings for each class, four term papers on assigned themes and a group presentation on an assigned theme.


View full syllabus.