Skip Navigation Bar
Genetics in Society

Genetics in Society

Human genetic and reproductive technologies are rapidly being integrated into our lives. The use of these technologies provokes legal, ethical, and social questions.  Issues pertaining to the use of genetic medicine, prenatal screening, newborn screening, pharmacogenomics, equal access to genetic services, and genetic discrimination are a few examples. Society and ethical norms are important in governing how new genetic and genomic technologies are  translated into health benefits to individuals and populations, and for evaluating their impact on health care, disease prevention and societal questions.

Materials for Genetics in Society


Case Study in Lethal Diseases and Autonomy

Description: Should expectant couples undergo prenatal testing for serious conditions that won't manifest until adulthood?

Ethical Questions Loom Over Efforts to Make a Human Genome from Scratch

Description: Printing genomes on demand could mean custom-built organisms, difficult ethical questions, and profits for a handful of companies.

Genetic Discrimination

Description: Visit this Web page to read about genetic discrimination laws and legislative history.

Genetics and Society

Description: Topical list of societal issues raised by advances in genetics

Genomic Resource Center - Gender and Genetics

Description: A seven part module with case studies to help your student explore the relationship between gender and genetics. Through the module they will learn more about how biological and sociocultural factors interact to influence behavior and gender identity.

Is It Ethical to Genetically Modify Farm Animals for Agriculture?

Description: Genetic engineering involves altering an organisms genes to enhance certain characteristics. Read about advantages and disadvantages associated with genetically modifying animals for agriculture.

Is It Ethical to Have a National DNA Database?

Description: The National DNA Database has proved to be a valuable tool in the fight against crime. However, many people are concerned about how it has evolved from a database containing genetic information on convicted criminals to one that has information from a much wider group of people.

Personal Genomics: The Future of Healthcare?

Description: Personal genomics is an area of genomics focusing specifically on the sequencing and analysis of one person’s genome, and then giving them their genomic information.

Should Animals Be Used In Research?

Description: Explore views for and against the use of animals in scientific research.

The Henrietta Lacks Timeline (PDF 2,218.14 KB)

Description: This infographic poster illustrates the historical timeline of Henrietta Lacks' immortal cells (HeLa cell line). Research using the HeLa cell line has resulted in drugs against influenza, leukemia, herpes, Parkinson's disease and more.

The New Genetics - 21st-Century Genetics

Description: Information from a science education booklet that explains systems biology, green fluorescent protein, genetic testing, privacy concerns, DNA forensics, biotechnology, patents, and careers

Interactive Tutorials

Bio Ethics Education Project (BEEP)

Description: An interactive website and virtual learning environment developed to highlight the moral, ethical, social, economic, environmental and technological implications and applications of biology.


Description: Interactive tutorials and animations on cloning

Gender Testing of Athletes

Description: An interactive tutorial that explores the complexities and ethics of gender testing of athletes

RACE Project - Race Are We So Different

Description: Humans share a common ancestry and the differences among people we see are natural variations, results of migration, marriage and adaptation to different environments. The story of race is complex and may challenge how we think about race and human variation, about the differences and similarities among people.

Teacher Resources

Athletics and Genetics (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: In this lesson, students are asked to consider how their own genetic information might influence their athletic path.

Creating Genetic Counselor Pamphlets (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: After discussing the benefits and potential misuses of prenatal genetic testing, students in grades 9-12 research a particular genetic disorder and then create pamphlets about the disorder from a genetic counselor's point of view.

Debating the Ethical and Legal Implications of Genetic Testing (PDF 904.59 KB, Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: Students explore the difference between ethical and legal issues and use an analytical framework to work through an ethical scenario before researching and debating two genetic testing scenarios. Additional chapters from DNA: Promise and Peril (McCabe, Linda L. and McCabe, Edward R.B. Regents of the University of California Press, 2008.) provide a starting point for their research.

Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: This lesson provides students the opportunity to explore the excitement and challenges related to the direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing industry. How do consumers react to genetic information gleaned from DTC services? What information can be learned through a DTC test, and do consumers need or want a doctor or genetic counselor to access this information?

Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing (196 KB, Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: Students explore common complex traits and diseases by creating a FAQ sheet about a trait or disease listed in their fictitious 23andMe "Spit Kit" results. They also explore the caveats of the genetic testing offered by 23andMe for their trait or disease of interest, and in small groups, decide how relevant they think the results are. This leads to a class discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of direct-to-consumer genetic testing. Finally, students read about the pervasiveness of genetic determinism attitudes in modern society and the unethical behavior these attitudes have led to in the past.

Does Our Background Shape Our Thinking About Environmental Issues? (PDF 175.67 KB)

Description: A lesson guide exploring personal attitues and impressions of environmental issues

Ethics and Reproductive Issues - The Dilemma of Choice (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: This lesson introduces students to the ethical implications of using our growing knowledge about the human genome to improve our personal and public health.

Genetics and Reproduction (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: This lesson addresses the genetic reproductive technologies that are being used by individuals who, for a variety of reasons, wish to know and/or have some choice about the genetic makeup of their children. It begins with a discussion of the technologies that can reveal the genetic makeup of fetuses and then moves on to a technology called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). The goal of this lesson is to give students an opportunity to discuss many aspects of PGD such that they become aware of the diversity of opinions surrounding PGD.

Genetics, Jobs and Your Rights (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: The lesson explores the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), called the first civil rights legislation of the 21st century by former Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. Learning about the history of genetic discrimination in the workplace, along with the progress being made to ensure workers do not have information about their DNA used inappropriately, is key to seeing the potential of personal genetics come to fruition.

Genome Editing and CRISPR Lesson Plan (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: Through this lesson plan you will explore with your students how advances in our ability to change genomes may impact individuals and society.

Genomic Resource Center - Gender and Genetics

Description: A seven part module with case studies to help your student explore the relationship between gender and genetics. Through the module they will learn more about how biological and sociocultural factors interact to influence behavior and gender identity.

History, Eugenics and Genetics (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: This lesson provides students with a historical overview of the American eugenics movement and highlights some of the advances and breakthroughs that have been achieved through genetic and genomic research. Many people fear that new advances in genetics, particularly embryo screening and analysis of fetal DNA, could lead to a new era of eugenics. The goal of this lesson is for students to start discussing these topics so that they can understand the complexity of the issues and engage in conversations that contrast the dangers of eugenics with the benefits that can come from genetic information.

HIV Vaccines

Description: A curriculum unit exploring the scientific and ethical issues involved in clinical HIV vaccine trials using human research participants.

Humans in Research

Description: A curriculum supplement introducing how research with humans is conducted, the rules and regulations involved, and the bioethical principles that guide scientists when involving humans in research.

Personalized Medicine (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: Personalized medicine, also referred to as precision medicine, holds great promise to improve healthcare. As the cost of genetic analysis decreases and research advances, it is becoming increasingly possible to include the genetic make-up of a person in the repertoire of tools that inform his or her healthcare. This lesson asks students to delve into the hopes and challenges of personalized medicine and to consider the practical applications of genetic analysis in medicine.

Protecting Athletes with Genetic Conditions: Sickle Cell Trait (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: As the genetic basis for many health conditions is revealed, some doctors, coaches, and academic and athletic organizations are wondering whether genetic analysis can provide health and safety benefits for athletes. As of 2013, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the governing body of college sports in the United States, began screening all of its athletes for the genetic condition sickle cell trait (SCT). This lesson explores the discussion surrounding this policy and asks students to examine how genetics might impact their own athletic choices and options.

Risks and Benefits (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: This lesson provides students with an opportunity to further their understanding of the risks and benefits associated with innovations in science and technology.

Scientific Themes in Personal Genetics (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: This lesson introduces students to scientific concepts in genetics that have broad implications for individuals and for society. Students will be asked to consider the role of DNA in our personal and cultural identities as well as our understanding of diversity. They will come away with a perspective that the benefits of personal genetics can only come to light when we understand the potential and the concerns.

Technological Advances in Health (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: Students will learn how technology influences human existence by examining the benefits and risks of different biotechnological advances.

Technology and Inequality (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: In this lesson, students become more familiar with different types of technology, and to understand that not all people have the same access to technology.

The Illusion of Race (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: The goal of this lesson is to have students investigate both genetic and societal consequences of these often artificial and evolving classifications.

The Social Nature of Scientific Research

Description: A curriculum supplement introducing students to ways in which scientific research is conducted, how social forces influence scientific priorities, and how basic scientific research may, or may not, support medical applications for human health

Variation in Human Skin Color (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: In this lesson, students explore the factors that control variation in human skin color and the implications of this information for human society.

Who Owns Rights To Pharmacogenetic Information? (PDF 28.17 KB)

Description: This lesson examines potential benefits, risks, and ethical concerns of designer drugs.

Women in Medicine - Past and Future (Lesson Plans/Lesson Activities)

Description: In this investigation, students will compare the careers of two women, a century apart, involved in medical research.