Understanding Life in an Age of Synthetic Biology
This course brings together molecular biology, evolutionary biology and insight into the origins of life to allow students to understand how synthetic biology is now attempting to solve many of contemporary society's most pressing problems. We will discuss the sweeping discoveries of molecular biology with a particular perspective on the nature and origins of life, and reflect on the opportunities, possibilities and risks of the close reality of synthesis of life de novo. By linking our understanding of evolution to the challenges of synthetic biology, we will discuss the problems and challenges for solving many of the world's major problems in energy, food and medicine.
- The Past
- The Present
- The Future
In the first part of the course ("The Past"), we aim to bring students some understanding of the key principles of molecular biology and the nature of life from a historical perspective to prepare them for the later stages of the course. The importance of multidisciplinary thinking to drive scientific discovery will be a recurring theme.
• The birth of biochemistry– the original nineteenth century experiments that brought chemistry and biology came together.
• The birth of evolutionary thought – Darwinism vs. Lamarck.
• Progress in molecular biology in the nineteenth century.
• The birth of molecular biology – structure of DNA.
• The Central Dogma of Molecular Biology.
• From Darwinism to NeoDarwinism – the integration of Molecular Biology and Evolutionary thought.
• Genetics and geology.
• The genomics revolution.
In the second part of the course ("The Present"), we build on "The Past" by now allowing the students to gain an informed understanding of present scientific understanding of potential models for the Origin of Life. We will also discuss real applications of evolution in the laboratory to disprove the common misconception that evolution is just a theory.
• Conceptual Frameworks of Research on the Origin of Life
• What is Life?
• Molecular Selection
• Self-Organization and Emergence
• Self-replication and self-reproduction
• Compartmentalization and the Logic of Cellular Life
• Applications of evolution in the laboratory today
• Limits of organic life on earth and on other planets – extreme environments.
To conclude the course ("The Future"), we look at scientific efforts in Synthetic Biology to solve many of mankind's major problems. The societal, philosophical and ethical implications of such research will also be discussed and care will be taken to link understanding from "The Past" and "The Present" to allow student to develop synthesis and evaluation of the major issues discussed.
• Key enabling technologies for synthetic biology
• Synthetic biology of viruses
• Synthetic biology of bacteria
• Ethical, legal and philosophical implications of synthetic biology
• Using synthetic biology to tackle the world's energy problems
• Using synthetic biology in medicine
• Assessing the risks of synthetic biology
• Evaluating data in synthetic biology
• Public dialogue and importance of the societal understanding of science.
The Course Teachers
Dr. Julian A. Tanner, Department of Biochemistry, Course Co-ordinator
Dr. Rory M. Watt, Faculty of Dentistry
Dr. Paul Tsang, Faculty of Dentistry
Dr. Samantha Bevan, Department of Biochemistry
Dr. Cecilia Chan, Department of Biochemistry
20% Tutorial PBL Assessment
20% Team Debates
20% Individual Selected Essay
30% Group Poster
10% Lecture "Minute" Assessment
First semester, Sept-Dec 2010
Lectures 1pm-3pm Wednesday, venue TBC
PBL Tutorials 2 hours per fortnight, venue/time TBC