HRT 486: Biotechnology in Agriculture: Applications and Ethical Issues

Course Code: HRT 486

Credits and Offerings

  • 3 credits
  • Fall semester of even years

Course Description

This course explores the current uses and emerging applications of biotechnology in agriculture and critically addresses the related scientific and policy issues.  The course will cover scientific basis for the technologies, specific applications, and associated health, environmental, social, and ethical concerns.  The course is co-taught by professors specializing in plant biotechnology and agricultural ethics and will draw upon both scientific and philosophical approaches using a combination of lecture, discussion, and essay formats.


  • Required:  BS 161 or PLB 105 or equivalent. 
  • Recommended: CSS 350 or ZOL341 or ANS 314.

Semester offered

Fall of even years

Additional Instructors

Paul Thompson, Department of Philosophy
526 South Kedzie

Course Purpose

To provide a knowledge base about biotechnology and its applications in agriculture, and use that understanding to ask questions and evaluate concerns relevant to current and future uses in plant and animal agriculture.

Course Learning Objectives

  • Understand the scientific basis for genetic engineering and applications in agriculture
  • Become familiar with various applications of genetic engineering in agriculture – their purposes, uses and impacts
  • Examine environmental, health, social and ethical concerns and controversies associated with the use of genetically engineered products in agriculture
  • Critically evaluate information and logic underlying opposing points of view
  • Improve ability to express and justify viewpoints on controversial topics orally and in writing


  • Introduction to biotechnology and the controversies surrounding it
  • Introduction to dialectical structure of argument, ethical reasoning and analysis
  • Evaluation of information and sources
  • Plant breeding, crop evolution and the molecular basis of heredity
  • Molecular basis of phenotype
  • Molecular genetic and genomic tools
  • Plant transformation technologies
  • Crop biotechnology applications
  • Approaches to risk management: cost-benefit analysis and precautionary principle
  • Food safety: evaluation, regulations, labeling         
  • Environmental safety
  • Sustainable and organic agriculture 
  • Biotechnology in relationship to large-scale and small-scale farming
  • Impact of biotechnology on developing countries
  • Food aid and GE crops
  • Germplasm diversity, preservation, ownership
  • Intellectual property rights and patenting
  • Biotechnology and globalization of agriculture
  • Animal agriculture, animal biotechnology
  • Animal welfare/animal rights
  • Animal cloning and transgenic animals
  • Applications of biotechnology for animal agriculture                                                         


Instructional Materials