IB Biology Practical Investigations/Genetics/Lorenzo's Oil

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LORENZO'S OIL - VIDEO ACTIVITY[edit | edit source]


  • Tie together some of the key concepts of 'Cells', 'Chemistry of Life', 'Genetics' with this true-story drama.


  • By the end of this activity, students will be able to:
    • recognise some of the key concepts of the first three units in this real-life situation
    • answer a set of challenging questions by combining prior knowledge with new information presented in the film.
    • have a bit of a cry at the end


  • Film lasts 2 hrs, you may want to break it into a number of short bursts throughout the 'Genetics' unit.

Does anyone know where to get the answers to the worksheet?


Made in 1992, this true story is based on the life of Lorenzo Odone, a young boy diagnosed with the progressive neurological disease adrenoleukodystrophy. Starring Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon, it tells the story of Lorenzo's parents as they struggle to make Lorenzo's life comfortable whilst also generating groundbreaking research into this 'orphan' disease. Their research led to the development of Lorenzo's oil, an olive-oil based food supplement that can prevent the onset of ALD in boys diagnosed with the disease. Lorenzo lived until May 30, 2008, one day after his 30th birthday.

Students will watch the movie, answering a series of questions that tie the movie to the DP Biology syllabus.


  • Lorenzo's Oil DVD or video
  • Question sheet, available from (occ link)


  • ALD is a progressive, sex-linked neurological disorder - it is only passed from mothers to sons and is carried on the X-chromosome. (Although there is an ALD-related gene on another chromosome, this may confuse students).
  • ALD is a build-up of long-chain fatty acids (C24-C26) which damage the myelin sheath of nerve cells. As this progresses, patients lose motor function and eventually become paralysed, requiring a ventilator and saliva-suction.
  • Symptoms are shown in young boys, which get progressively worse. Death is usually before age 12.
  • A C24-C26 limited diet was found to increase levels of C24-C26 fatty acids in some patients, due to increased biosynthesis of the same dangerous molecules.
  • C18, toxic to humans in pure form, can reduce C24-C26 when used to 'flood the system'. It is found in olive oil.
  • 'Lorenzo's oil' is a C18-rich oil. This can be produced by either removing the C24-C26 chains from olive oil, or by using C18 chains to make triglycerides. This is very expensive.
  • Some boys given Lorenzo's oil before they show symptoms remain ALD-free.
  • The Odone family's Myelin Project aims to develop research into remyelination of damaged nerve cells, with the eventual goal of reversing some of the progress of ALD.

For more information, visit the links below.


  • Discuss: as more boys survive into adulthood, will it become possible for girls to develop ALD?
  • Genetic screening and 'designer babies' - if the mother is a known carrier, do students' points of view on their rights change?


  • occ link to the worksheet: