Module Details

BS934-7-AU-CO: Gene Technology And Synthetic Biology

Year: 2017/18
Department: Biological Sciences (School of)
Essex credit: 30
ECTS credit: 15
Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students: No
Full Year Module Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students for a Single Term: No
Outside Option: No

Supervisor: Professor Philip Mullineaux
Teaching Staff: Prof Phil Mullineaux, Dr Metodi Metodiev, Dr Lauren Headland
Contact details: School Graduate Office, email: bsgradtaught (Non essex users should add to create a full email address)

Module is taught during the following terms
Autumn Spring Summer

Module Description

The development of techniques to manipulate and analyse nucleic acids has revolutionised the study of biology and provided the key driver for the massive expansion in biotechnology. Subsequent to this has been the emergence of the fields of genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics that are now the focus of the most exciting new advances in biotechnology and have led to the emerging discipline of synthetic biology. Synthetic biology is an emerging area of biotechnology research that can be broadly described as the design and construction of novel artificial biological pathways, organisms or devices, or the re-design of existing natural biological systems (Royal Society, UK).

The Basic Gene Technology part of the module consists of a series of 9 lectures and 6 linked practicals examining the isolation of DNA and RNA, gene cloning, the many applications of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), the construction and screening of gene and cDNA libraries, directed mutagenesis techniques, transformation of key organisms and basic lab-based sequencing. In addition, DNA fingerprinting methodologies, selection and hybridisation methods will be studied. Finally, the use of reporter genes to measure non-invasively the expression of genes, to set up novel mutant screens and to determine the levels of small molecules in the living cell will be discussed. The Synthetic Biology part of the module (3 lectures) will provide an introduction to the key design concepts in Synthetic Biology which underpin the methods used for rapidly building new biosynthetic pathways using advanced recombinant DNA technology, the construction of novel coding sequences and the synthesis of novel genes and the first synthetic organism. The final 3 lectures will be concerned with some of the underpinning technologies in genomics with special emphasis on next generation sequencing as applied to transcriptomics and chromatin immune precipitation techniques.

All of this is underpinned by a series of practical classes which jointly show how CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing, an exciting new method, can be used to edit a gene in human cell genomes which is associated with cancer development. The practicals are designed to provide first-hand experience of key procedures and are coordinated with the first 9 lectures of the course to reinforce the theory.

Learning Outcomes
To pass this module, students will need to be able to:
1. To have an understanding of how manipulation of nucleic acids has been central to the developments made in biotechnology and biology as a whole.

2. Be able to describe the major tools used in gene technology and understand how such tools are used.

3. Be able to explain how molecular techniques can be used in combination to explore biological questions.

4. To have an understanding of the importance of gene technology and of the rapidly developing field of synthetic biology.

5. To have an understanding of the applications of genome scale methods for studying gene expression in biotechnology and molecular medicine.

6. Be able to demonstrate practical competence in key gene manipulation techniques.

7. To have developed a range of key skills including information acquisition from web-based and library sources, self-directed learning, critical analysis of data, numeracy, writing and presentation of scientific reports.

Learning and Teaching Methods

Lectures: 15 x 1 hr
Practicals: 6 sessions totalling 45 hr
Workshop: 1 x 4hr
Student managed learning: 110 hr
Total: 158 h

In addition, one Mock Exam Paper will be made available on Moodle in the Autumn term for practice and revision purposes for the exam in early January.


60 per cent Coursework Mark, 40 per cent Exam Mark


One set of pre-practical asessment tests to be conducted before and in preparation for each of practicals 2-6 (10%) Five (5) post-practical assignments, covering practicals 2-6, designed to stimulate your self-directed learning, assess your understanding of the practicals and accompanying lectures, develop your skills in critical analysis of data and to give you experience of writing in a concise scientific style. The combined mark for these assignments is 40% of the Course Mark and there is an equal weighting of 8% for each assignment.

Other details

One exam consisting of a DAI and a choice of one out of 3 structured essays (40%).

Exam Duration and Period

3:00 during Christmas vacation.


  • Essential:
  • Glick, B.R., Pasternak, J.J. & Paten C.L. (2010) 'Molecular Biotechnology -Principles and Applications of Recombinant DNA' 4th edition, American Society of Microbiology.
  • Primrose, S.B. and Twyman, R.M. (2009) Principles of Gene Manipulation and Genomes, 8th edition, Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Freemont P.S. (2012) Synthetic Biology - A Primer (1st Edition), Imperial College Press (World Scientific)
  • Recommended:
  • Brown, T.A. (2006) 'Genomes'. Taylor Francis Publishers
  • Strachan, T. & Read, A.P. (2010) 'Human Molecular Genetics' Garland Publishing
  • Ratledge, C & and Kristianson, B (2006) Basic Biotechnology 3rd Edition Cambridge University Press.
  • Slater, N, Scott W & Fowler M.R. (2008) Plant biotechnology: the genetic manipulation of plants Oxford University Press

Further information