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Challenge Questions

This page contains further questions on the subject of breast cancer and biotechnology and are designed to stimulate more in-depth conversation and learning. These questions support students to think and write at the level of synthesis and understanding required for Merit and Excellence discussions and above.



1. The cell cycle controls growth and reproduction in cells. During the cycle, there are checks to ensure that each stage has been completed correctly and that the cell is ready to move onto the next stage (indicated by the arrows in the diagram below). Discuss the role of check points in the cell cycle and the potential consequences of loss of control of the cycle. This website may be useful.


2. In the process of PCR used to study the level of expression of a gene, the reverse transcriptase reaction is used to create a strand of cDNA from a sample of RNA extracted from the tissue being studied. Explain why RNA rather than DNA is used as the starting point for this process.


3. Around 5‐10% of cancer patients inherit a genetic pattern that gives them increased susceptibility to cancer over their lifetime. BRAC‐1 and BRAC‐2 are well known alleles associated with an increased susceptibility to breast cancer. Gene profiling can be used to identify individuals who carry these alleles. Discuss the potential ethical implications that are created when one family/whanau member chooses to find out their gene profile for an allele such as BRAC‐1.


Higher Level Thinking Challenge Question


4. Each year in New Zealand, approximately 3 300 women and 25 men are diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 600 people die of breast cancer. 1 in 9 NZ women will be affected by breast cancer in their life time. Biotechnologies play a major role in the quest to understand cancer at a molecular level which can lead to the development of effective treatments. 


Technologies used in cancer research include: 

  • Gene profiling 
  • Genome analysis 
  • Gene cloning and transgenesis 
  • Cell culture 


The Human Genome Project has provided extensive information which allows scientists to look at genetic differences between individuals. Microarray technology combined with this information allows scientists and clinicians to look at genetic differences between individuals and develop individualised therapies.   


Discuss how the use of named biotechnologies has enabled scientists to develop an understanding of cancer at a molecular level and how this understanding can be used in the development of effective treatments.