Engineering a Living Medicine


Can genetic engineering be used to treat PKU?

Follow the case of a woman who has phenylketonuria (PKU). She cannot make an enzyme needed to process phenylalanine, an amino acid that is present in almost all foods that contain protein.

  • Simulate testing for the the level of phenylalanine in the woman’s blood.
  • Explore how a genetically engineered chromosome can be used to turn bacteria into a “living medicine” for people with PKU.
  • Model the production of a “living medicine”—bacteria that could live in the digestive tract and produce enzymes that keep phenylalanine levels low.
  • Analyze descriptions of an experiment and a clinical trial to test the safety and effectiveness of the “living medicine” bacteria.
Assembled kits
Materials to assemble 10 kits - includes all supplies, printed labels, and student instructions copy master.
Materials to refill 10 kits

Kit Includes

  • Kaylee’s blood (simulated)
  • Phenylalanine Test Paper (simulated)
  • Kaylee’s Notes
  • E. coli Diagram
  • Large clear ring (“chromosome”)
  • Tubes (“genes”)
  • Beads (“enzymes”)
  • Small white rings (“transport proteins”)
  • “Phenylalanine” paper strips

Also Required

  • Safety goggles
  • Paper towels for clean-up

Quantity Discounts


  • 1 – 9 kits: $13.95 each
  • 10 – 24 kits: $13.25 each
  • 25+ kits: $12.56 each


  • 1 – 9 packs: $83.95 each
  • 10+ packs: $79.75 each


  • 1 – 9 packs: $22.95 each
  • 10+ packs: $21.80 each

Correlation to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Shop by NGSS »

Performance Expectations:

HS-LS1-1. Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the structure of DNA determines the structure of proteins, which carry out the essential functions of life through systems of specialized cells.

  • Science & Engineering Practices

    Developing and Using Models - Develop, revise, and/or use a model based on evidence to illustrate and/or predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system.

    Planning and Carrying Out Investigations - Plan an investigation individually and collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence, and in the design: decide on types, how much, and accuracy of data needed to produce reliable measurements and consider limitations on the precision of the data (e.g., number of trials, cost, risk, time), and refine the design accordingly.

    Analyzing and Interpreting Data - Apply concepts of statistics and probability (including determining function fits to data, slope, intercept, and correlation coefficient for linear fits) to scientific and engineering questions and problems, using digital tools when feasible.

  • Disciplinary Core Ideas

    LS1.A: Structure and Function
    - Systems of specialized cells within organisms help them perform the essential functions of life.
    - All cells contain genetic information in the form of DNA molecules. Genes are regions in the DNA that contain the instructions that code for the formation of proteins, which carry out most of the work of cells.
    - Multicellular organisms have a hierarchical structural organization, in which any one system is made up of numerous parts and is itself a component of the next level.

  • Crosscutting Concepts

    Structure and Function - The functions and properties of natural and designed objects and systems can be inferred from their overall structure, the way their components are shaped and used, and the molecular substructures of its various materials.

    Cause and Effect - Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system.