25th May 2001 at 01:00
Genetic Engineering: dreams and nightmares. 48-minute video. Leeds University Television, Media Services, University of Leeds, LS2 9JJ. pound;11.75.

This excellent resource arises from talks on genetic engineering given to school students and to the public by David Cove, professor of genetics at Leeds University. It has been produced with A-level general studies in mind, but it deserves much wider use. I have used selections with Year 11 students and the whole video with AS biology students.

Part one launches into topical images of GM crop destruction and then steps back to consider the structure of DNA and how this was unravelled, with clear animations to illustrate replication and coding. Part two presents the basics of genetic engineering, including brief consideration of protein synthesis. It exemplifies only the firing of DNA into cells, showing a "gene gun" in (unxciting) action. It does not consider the use of restriction endonucleases and ligases. There is useful footage of fluorescent markers, showing promoters in action.

Part three is a tour de force, in which benefits and problems are considered. Topics include production of insulin and vaccines, insecticide and root nematodes' resistance in crop plants, and treatment of cystic fibrosis, each with short sections of selected footage.

Perhaps Professor Cove is a little upbeat on possible benefits to food production in underdeveloped countries, but he provides an excellent stimulus to debate.

An accompanying floppy disk includes worksheets and a teachers' guide, together with an annotated copy of the script, as Word files. Excellent value.

Nigel Collins is head of biology at King Charles I school, Kidderminster, and edits Catalyst: GCSE Science Review

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