Understanding Biotechnology:  Promise and Problem (Biol. 11100)

Spring 2013

Maya Patel

Center for Natural Sciences Rm. 157
Contact: (607) 274-5801

Office Hours: Monday & Wednesday 1-2 pm, Tuesday 9-11 am

This is a course for the non-science major with an interest in understanding the field of biotechnology, its applications, promises and associated controversies.   The goal of this course is to help you become a more fluent consumer of biotech information and products, with a focus on building a sustainable future and understanding scientific inquiry.  In this course you will learn about the basic, underlying, biological concepts through lecture, discussion, video and hands-on projects.  You will also learn about some of the major techniques of the field, how these techniques work, and how they are deployed to address scientific problems.  This course also involves student-lead discussion/debate of current issues in the field.  This final project is designed to help you develop your skills in crafting, communicating, and defending an argument.   Topics for final presentations will specifically address questions/controversies around applying biotechnological solutions to current and future problems of sustainability (for example:  energy, food security, environmental remediation, engineering human health).


Course overview

his course we will cover the basic, biological background material necessary to understand what biotechnology is.  Applications of biotechnology will also be discussed in order to place the biological concepts within a context.  Readings to accompany this material will be posted on Sakai and reading assessments (quizzes) will be administered on Sakai each week.  These quizzes must be completed by midnight each Monday.  Copies of two reference texts have been placed on reserve in the library for students who would like additional help with background material.  Students’ knowledge of basic concepts presented in lecture and readings will be tested via two exams.  These exams will feature mostly multiple choice questions. 

Three major homework assignments also accompany this portion of the course.  These assignments are called Take Home Labs and are to be completed outside class time and in groups.  Each group will be provided with instructions and a kit containing all necessary materials.  Each group will then complete a write-up, which will include photographic documentation of their lab activities and results.

For your final project, you will select a relevant and controversial topic within the field of biotechnology to present to the class.  Students will be permitted to work individually or in groups on this project.  Your task will be to teach the topic and explain the controversy to the class through a 20-30 minute presentation.  You will also assign reading material and response questions for the class.  You will meet with me several times throughout the semester to discuss your topic, the progress of your research and the structure of your presentation.  These meetings are important because they will help me to structure lectures/lessons around your presentations.   Since students’ interests will determine what is covered in the second part of the course, we will fill in this part of the syllabus once topics have been selected.   Other useful resources, a full description of the project, my expectations and a grading rubric will all be provided to you.

Texts and other requirements: 

Learning objectives:  Students will be able to:


Reading Quizzesi – 11* @ 10 pts = 110
In-class activities/worksheetsg – 4 @ 10 pts =  
Take-home laboratory exercisesg – 3 @ 20 pts = 60
Response questions (audio clips/movies)i – 6 @ 5-10 pts = 
RQ and feedback (student presentations)Iapproximately**=
3 written examinationsi – 3 @ 30-50 pts =  
Final presentationi or g – 1 @ 50 pts = 
Total (approximately) =     

i = independent work, individual score
* = will drop the lowest of 12 scores
g = group work, group score
** = depends on the number of students/groups

Course Policies

         1. Attendance

Students are expected to attend all classes and are themselves responsible for all material even when absent.  Students who miss a quiz or in-class assignment because of an excusable absence (e.g. serious illness or athletic event off campus) are responsible for notifying the instructor in advance and scheduling a make-up.  Failure to do so will result in a zero grade for that assignment and no make-up will be offered.


2. Standards of Academic Conduct

These are outlined clearly in the student handbook.  “Academic honesty is a cornerstone of the mission of the College.  Unless it is otherwise stipulated, students may submit for evaluation only that work which is their own and that is submitted originally for a specific course”.  Please familiarize yourself with the definition of plagiarism.  Academic dishonesty can lead to a zero grade on that assignment, a failing grade in the course, academic code probation, suspension or expulsion from the College depending on the gravity of the violation and the decision of the judicial board.


3. Students with Disabilities

In compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, reasonable accommodation will be provided to students with documented disabilities on a case by case basis.  Students must register with the Office of Academic Support Services (607-274-1005 TDD 607-274-7319, acssd@ithaca.edu) and provide appropriate documentation to the college before any academic adjustment will be provided.  Students should schedule an appointment with the course instructor as soon as possible to discuss their individual needs.


4.  Course Evaluations

Course evaluations must be completed at the end of the semester (TBA).  The evaluation will be submitted to the Department Assistant. She will verify that you have submitted the form.  Once that has been checked, your identification will be removed and will not be printed with the comments.


TENATITVE Syllabus -- see Sakai for current version

ICA = in class activity; RQ = response questions; THL = take home “lab”



Lecture Topics/Activities


Readings and Follow-up Assignments – all on Sakai:


Week 1:  Introduction

 Jan 21

MLK Jr. Day!  (no classes today)


Weds. Jan 23

Intro to the course & to Biotechnology

- Bio.org:  Healing, Fueling, Feeding:  How     Biotechnology is Enriching Your Life

- Paul Root Wolpe Video:  It’s Time to Question Bioengineering  RQ1 due Jan 24.

Fri. Jan 25

Discussion:  responses to Wolpe


ICA:  Speed “Dating” ice-breaker

- SciAm: Evolution a Game of Chance

- NOVA:  Are we still evolving?

Week 2: 

All about Cells

Jan 28

3 domains of life + viruses



THL:  Bacteria are Everywhere!!

- Quiz 1 on readings from Wk 1

- Wikipedia:  Prokaryotes and Viruses

- Plates due on Fri. Feb. 1.   Write-up due on Fri. Feb. 8. 

Jan 30.

Endosymbiosis and Eukaryotic cells

- UUtah:  The Evolution of the Cell

- NIH:  Inside the cell, Chapter 1

Feb. 1

Aging and Immortality

- NIH:  Inside the cell, Chapter 5

- Smithsonian:  Henrietta Lack’s “Immortal” Cells

- Aubrey de Gray Video:  A Roadmap to End Aging.  RQ2 Due Feb 3.

Week 3:

Organic Molecules

Feb. 4

Discussion:   Is immortality sustainable?

ICA:  Examining your Bacteria

- Quiz 2 on readings from Wk 2

-KET Report:  Industrial Biotechnology

Feb. 6

Organic molecules:  sugars and fats (yum!)

-Biology Pages:  Carbohydrates, Fats



Feb. 8

Food Processing, High Fructose Corn Syrup

- Peter Lustig Video:  Sugar, the Bitter Truth RQ3 due Feb 10.

- Sweet Surprise:  What is HFCS, Why HFCS, Myths vs. Facts

Week 4:

 Organic Molecules

Feb 11

Discussion:  Sugar, the bitter truth

Fermentation:  Early Biotechnology and now Biofuels

- Quiz 3 on readings from Wk 3

- EAC:  Are Biofuels Sustainable?

- BfB:  Are Biofuels Sustainable?

Feb. 13

Proteins and enzymes

- Biotutorial:  Proteins, Enzymes

Feb. 15

Protein products:  antibiotics, antibodies, and vaccines (and viruses)

- OECD:  Biotechnology and Sustainability: The Fight Against Infectious Disease.

- NYT:  Antibiotic Resistance in Ancient DNA


Week 5: 

Exam Week

Feb. 18

Discussion and Review

- Quiz 4 on readings from Wk 4

Feb. 20

Exam 1 covers lecture material from weeks 1-4


Feb. 22

DNA structure and replication

ICA:  Modeling DNA

THL:  DNA Extraction. 

- Wikipedia:  Deoxyribonucleic  acid


- DNA sample due in class on March 4, Write-up Due March 8.

Week 6: 

DNA and the Genome

Feb. 25


- Nature Ed:  Ribosomes, Transcription,


Feb. 27

Translation and mutations

- Nature Ed:  Translation

- LiveScience:  In Photos:  Fukushima Butterflies Plagued with Defects

March 1

ICA:  Mutations

Gene expression

Final Project group formation and topic selection due.

Week 7:

 DNA and the Genome

March 4

Human Genome Project  

Movie clip:  Cracking your genetic code.   RQ due midnight March 5


-Quiz 5  on readings from Wks 5 & 6

- Sci Am:  Revolution Postponed.

- Huffington Post:  Human Genome Encyclopedia, ENCODE, Reveals Complexities Of DNA, Genes

March 6

Discussion:  Cracking your genetic code

Recombinant DNA Technology:  a sampler of techniques                                                      

-DNA Interactive:  Manipulation, Applications

-Nature Ed:  Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): Transgenic Crops and Recombinant DNA Technology

March 8

Cell replication:  bacterial fission vs. eukaryotic mitosis

- Wikipedia:  Bacteria, Binary fission, Mitosis

Week 8:

 Spring Break

March 11 -15

No Classes – Spring Break

Catch up on your readings, movies, and research

Week 9:  Reproduction

& Inheritance

March 18

Mitosis and cancer

THL:  Plant Tissue Culture

- Quiz 6 on readings from Wk 7

- Discovery Health:  Top 10 Cancer Myths

- NPR Audio clip:  Beyond the “War”:  The Future of Cancer Treatment

- Tissue culture write up due date TBD

March 20

Meiosis and fertilization:  making the next generation 

- Wikipedia:  Meiosis

- Discovery Health:  In Vitro Fertilization

- LATimes:  Fetal Genome Blood Test: Lots of Issues, Scientists Say

March 22

ICA:  Mitosis and Meiosis compared

- Nova:  How Cells Divide

- NYT:  Engineering by Scientist on Embryo Stirs Controversy.

Week 10: 

Exam Week

March 25

Discussion and Review

- Quiz 7 on readings from Wk 9

March 27

Exam 2 covers lecture material from Wks 5-9


March 29

Mendelian Genetics

ICA:  Genetics problems due at end of class April 1

-Pearson:  Ch 3:  Mendelian Genetics

Week 11:


& GMOs

April 1

Topics in Human Genetics

ICA:  Genetics problems continued

- Quiz 8 on reading from Wk 10

-LATimes:  Older fathers pass on more new genetic mutations to offspring

- LATimes:  Is gene doping coming to the Olympics?

April 3

Transgenic animals:  cloning, stem

cells and gene therapy

-Biotech for Beginners:  Ch 8

April 5

Movie:  The Future of Food Part 1

RQ due midnight April 7


- Science:  Radically Rethinking Agriculture for the 21st Century


 Week 12:


April 8

Movie:  The Future of Food Part 2

RQ due midnight April 9

- Quiz 9 on readings from Wk 11

-Stanford Med:  Little evidence of health benefits from organic foods, Stanford study finds

- Mother Jones:  5 Ways the Stanford Study Sells organic Short

April 10

Transgenic plants

- Sci Am:  Is a Green Revolution Finally Blooming in Africa?

- Biotech for Beginners:  Ch 7

April 12

Agricultural revolutions

- Ag Eco Env:  How Sustainable is Organic Farming?

Week 13

Exam Week


April 15

Discussion: Food security and the meaning of sustainable agriculture and Review

- Quiz 10 on readings from Wk 12

April 17

Exam 3 covers lecture material from Wks 10-12


April 19

Student presentations (Final projects).  Feedback due in class.

- Readings on Sakai.  RQ due midnight 8/21

Week 14

April 22

Student presentations (Final projects) all week.  Feedback due in class.

- Readings on Sakai.  RQ due midnight 8/23

April 24

- Readings on Sakai.  RQ due midnight 8/25

April 26

- Readings on Sakai.  RQ due midnight 8/28

Week 15

April 29

Student presentations (Final projects) all week.  Feedback due in class.

- Quiz 11:  on readings from Wks 13 & 14

- Readings on Sakai.  RQ due midnight 8/30

May 1

- Readings on Sakai.  RQ due midnight 9/2

May 3

- Readings on Sakai.  RQ due midnight 9/4

Week 16

May 8

Student presentations (Final projects) all week.  Feedback due in class.

- Quiz 12:  on readings from Wk 15


Last updated  1/11/2013

Visit the Biology home page.
Visit the Ithaca College home page.
Page maintained by Maya Patel and Nancy Pierce