Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and gel electrophoresis have become common techniques used in undergraduate molecular and cell biology labs. Although students enjoy learning these techniques, they often cannot fully comprehend and analyze the outcomes of their experiments because of a disconnect between concepts taught in lecture and experiments done in lab. Here we report the development and implementation of novel exercises that integrate the biological concepts of DNA structure and replication with the techniques of PCR and gel electrophoresis. Learning goals were defined based on concepts taught throughout the cell biology lab course and learning objectives specific to the PCR and gel electrophoresis lab. Exercises developed to promote critical thinking and target the underlying concepts of PCR, primer design, gel analysis, and troubleshooting were incorporated into an existing lab unit based on the detection of genetically modified organisms. Evaluative assessments for each exercise were aligned with the learning goals and used to measure student learning achievements. Our analysis found that the exercises were effective in enhancing student understanding of these concepts as shown by student performance across all learning goals. The new materials were particularly helpful in acquiring relevant knowledge, fostering critical-thinking skills, and uncovering prevalent misconceptions.