Just a Spoonful of Soybeans: Lesson Plan

Learn about the techniques and outcomes of genetic technology, and discover how North Carolina scientists are using genetic technology to turn soybeans into vaccines.

UNC-TV Media

Alignment to NC Essential Standards

  • NCES.8.L.2.1 — Summarize aspects of biotechnology 
  • NCES.Bio.3.3.2 — Summarize how transgenic organisms are engineered to benefit society. 
  • NCES.Bio.3.3.3 — Evaluate some of the ethical issues surrounding the use of DNA technology (including cloning, genetically modified organisms, stem cell research and Human Genome Project).

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will identify the uses, benefits and importance of soybeans.
  • Students will discuss how vaccines can be produced and delivered in genetically-modified soybeans.

Essential Questions

  1. What are soybeans? 
  2. What types of biological chemicals make up soybeans? 
  3. How can genetic technology change soybeans? 
  4. How could genetic engineering be used to produce and deliver vaccines through soybeans?

Essential Vocabulary

  • Biomass 
  • Biotechnology 
  • Genetic engineering 
  • Immune system 
  • Protein 
  • Vaccine


Have students brainstorm a list of crops grown in North Carolina. Examples include tobacco, corn, wheat, peanuts, cotton and sweet potatoes. Then tell students that one crop is grown in all 100 North Carolina counties, and on about 1.6 million acres of state land, making it the state's largest crop by area. Ask students to guess this crop (which is soybeans) and identify whether or not it is on the list that the class generated. Reveal the answer, and then introduce the topic of genetic engineering of soybeans to generate a new use for the crop.


Students will work independently to gather information about DNA and genetic engineering, as well as the controversy over genetic engineering. Students should take notes to document their research, citing the website at which they obtained the information.



Students will view the NC Science Now video Just a Spoonful of Soybeans. After viewing the video, students should answer the following questions. They can then discuss their answers with a partner or in small groups.

  1. Why are soybeans sometimes called the "Miracle Crop?"
  2. The genetically-modified soybean plants shown in the video looked just like ordinary soybean plants. What makes them different?
  3. How do the scientists expect to use soybeans to deliver vaccines?
  4. Scientists once tried to use potatoes to make vaccines. Why do the scientists think that using soybeans will be more successful?


Students will research the many uses of soybeans, and explain how and why soybeans are grown extensively in North Carolina. They will present their findings in an oral report to the class. If possible, have a small group of students from the class interview a local soybean farmer or other representative of the soybean industry. Make sure that any interview subject is contacted only once by students from your school.


Students will collaborate to generate a class report on Just a Spoonful of Soybeans and the issues raised in the video. Divide the class into small groups. Each group will prepare a segment of the report, focusing on one of these topics: 

  • Soybeans: Discuss the soybean plant, its many uses and its importance in North Carolina. 
  • DNA and Genetic Engineering: Define DNA and its role in all living things, and explain how the techniques of genetic engineering are used to change the DNA of organisms. Discuss some of the goals and outcomes of genetic engineering. 
  • Vaccine Delivery: Discuss how North Carolina scientists are working to use genetic engineering on soybeans to produce and deliver vaccines. Describe the method that they have proposed. 
  • Controversy: Discuss both sides of the controversy surrounding genetic technology and the genetic-modification of farm crops. Compare the genetic modification of soybeans described in the video to other examples of genetic engineering.

Work with all groups to ensure that all students participate. Encourage students to cite the sources of the information or graphics that they include in their report. Combine the individual segments, either in print or electronic formats, to generate the class report.