Cell Wall Recipe: A Lesson on Biofuels

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Students will investigate how changes in the DNA sequence that codes for cell wall formation can have a favorable outcome in producing plants that have higher levels of cellulose than the parent plant. The cellulose yield is most important in the production of ethanol: the greater the amount of cellulose within the cell wall, the greater the amount of ethanol that can be produced. To engage students, the first part of this lesson has students participating in a discovery activity where they will extract DNA from wheat germ.

Following this, students will be given 3 strips of paper at random with different symbols on them; these strips are the DNA strands. While each strip has four symbols, only three symbols represent a gene (codon to be specific) and students will read the strips from left to right. By having four symbols per strip, students will have a variety of possible combinations as they lay out their strips to be decoded. Students will look at the key provided and build their cell walls based on the genetic code they were given.

Once students have built their cell walls, they will evaluate codes that would be most favorable in producing cell walls with a high percentage of cellulose and low percentages of lignin and hemicellulose. This module can be used as part of a whole unit or an activity in understanding cell wall structure and function, DNA and genetics, evolution, technology, or science and society.


Life Science

Plan Time

Several class periods, including presentations


Handouts included; construction paper, scissors, glue, poster board or butcher paper


Science Content Standards: 5-8
CONTENT STANDARD A: Science of Inquiry

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry


  • Structure and function in living systems
  • Reproduction and heredity
  • Regulation and behavior
  • Populations and ecosystems
  • Diversity and adaptations of organisms

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology

  • Abilities of technological design
  • Understandings about science and technology

CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

  • Personal health
  • Populations, resources, and environments
  • Natural hazards
  • Risks and benefits
  • Science and technology in society

CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science

  • Science as a human endeavor
  • Nature of science
  • History of science

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

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