BIOL 22045

Honors Intermediate Seminar

Playing God: from genetic engineering to Personal genomics

Tuesday/Thursday, 9:25-10:40 a.m.

Location: Friends 309



Dr Marina Caillaud


165 Center for Natural Sciences

Office hours:

Monday 4-5:15 pm or by appointment (e-mail me!)


Stay current on the course's Sakai site

Course description


In February of 2001, the sequence of the human genome was completed. It will take much of the 21st century to understand our genetic selves. The potential impact of this new understanding is immense and raises many issues. Genetic engineering and genomics affects our lives so intimately! Genetic tests can establish identity and diagnose disease. Do we want to know how and when we are likely to die or the predicted life expectancy of the baby we carry? Genetic manipulations can provide new agricultural variants. Are these genetically modified plants safe to eat? Are they safe for the environment? We can now sequence a single person’s genome for about $10,000? What can we learn from this data set and how will it change the way we view ourselves, choose our mates, and reproduce?


As young adults, citizens and voters, or simply parents, you will have to face during your lifetime many of these issues. The objective of this course is to provide you with a basic understanding of genetic engineering and biotechnologies so that you can:

-share the extraordinarily contagious enthusiasm of geneticists as they explore the underpinnings of life and disease
-understand the new biotechnology that are currently used or that will be available in the near future
-evaluate the policies proposed/implemented by the government of the country where you reside.


Course goals


1. Make students aware of the power of DNA technology. Basic concepts of Recombinant Technology and Genomics will be explained and examples of how DNA manipulation is used in medicine, agriculture and industry will be given

2. Recognize several ways in which genetic engineering influences daily life at the level of the individual and in society

3. To learn via laboratory experimentation how research works, and how scientific articles are organized.

4. Demonstrate self-directed learning in genetic engineering by identifying and utilizing credible resources available to the educated layperson

5. Effectively communicate the principles of Biotechnology and issues in both written and oral forms

Required material


-Angrist, Misha. 2010. Here is a Human being: at the dawn of personal genomics. ISBN 0061628336.

-Silver, Lee. 2006. Challenging Nature. The clash between Biotechnology and Spirituality. ISBN 0060582685.

-Ridley, Matt. 1999. Genome. The autobiography of a species in 23 chapters. ISBN 9780060894085.

-Gonick, L & M. Wheelis.  1991. The cartoon guide to Genetics. ISBN 0062730991.

-Takemura, Masaharu. 2009. The Manga guide to Molecular Biology. ISBN 9781593272029.


Recommended readings

-Dawkins, Richard. 1989. The selfish gene. ISBN 0199291152

-Goodman, Allegra. 2006. Intuition. ISBN 9780385336109

-Silver, Lee. 1997. Remaking Eden. ISBN 9780061235191.


            The following are designed to test and ensure consistent progress on all five of the stated learning goals   


1.      Exams (30%). There will be two exams, each worth 15%. Assessment of learning outcomes 1,2 and 5. Exam 1 is on Sept 22. Exam 2 is on Dec 15.

2.      Forum discussion (20%). We will have 9 discussions in the Forum section of the Sakai course website. For each discussion week, one student will be responsible for starting the discussion (based on the readings for the week), and one student will be responsible for summarizing the discussion. I will post a comment after that summary. All students are required to participate. Assessment of learning outcomes 2 and 5. Discussion weeks are Sept 5, Sept 19, Sept 26, Oct 3, Oct 24, Oct 31, Nov 7, Nov 14, and Dec 5

3.      Laboratory report (25%). Working in pairs, you will conduct an experiment that will span 6 class meetings. You will then write a laboratory report in the form of a scientific Research article. Assessment of learning outcomes 3 and 5.  Outline of Lab report due on Oct 27. Full Laboratory Report due on Nov 10.

4.      Final project (25%). Working in pairs, you will choose a controversial topic in Biotechnology/Personalized Genomics and present pros/cons arguments in the form of a 20 min oral presentation. Assessment of learning outcomes 4,5. Student presentations will occur on Nov 17, Nov 24, and Dec 8.



Grading scale

A : 94-100; A-: 90-93;
B+ : 87-89;  B :  84-86;  B- : 80-83;
C+ : 77-79; C :74-76;C- :70-73;
D+ :67-69; D : 64-66; D- :60-63;
S: below 70%

F : below 60%



Attendance policy

Students at Ithaca College are expected to attend all classes, and they are responsible for work missed during any absence from class. Students should notify their instructors as soon as possible of any anticipated absences, especially for examinations. Written documentation that indicates the reason for being absent may be required.

In accordance with New York State law, students who miss class due to their religious beliefs shall be excused from class or examinations on that day. Such students must notify their course instructors before any anticipated absence so that proper arrangements may be made to make up any missed work or examination without penalty.

Any student who misses class due to a verifiable family or individual health emergency or to a required appearance in a court of law shall be excused. The student or a family member/legal guardian may report the absence to the Office of Student Affairs and Campus Life, which will notify the student's dean's office, as well as residential life if the student lives on campus. The dean's office will disseminate the information to the appropriate faculty. Follow-up by the student with his or her professors is imperative. Students may need to consider a leave of absence, medical leave of absence, selected course withdrawals, etc., if they have missed a significant portion of classwork.

A student may be excused for participation in College-authorized cocurricular and extracurricular activities such as athletic events, musical and theatrical performances, and professional conferences.

Academic honesty

All work that you submit must be your own. 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, or suspension/expulsion from the college depending on the gravity of the violation and the decision of the judicial board.

In a collaborative project, all students in a group may be held responsible for academic misconduct if they engage in plagiarism or are aware of plagiarism by others in their group and fail to report it. Students who participate in a collaborative project in which plagiarism has occurred will not be held accountable if they were not knowledgeable of the plagiarism.


Course evaluations

Student input is highly valued and is important to maintain high quality instruction. Course evaluations are mandatory and must be completed by the indicated date (TBA). An incomplete will appear on your transcript if it is not submitted by that time. The evaluation will be submitted by 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.

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 and schedule an appointment with their instructors as soon as possible to discuss their needs.

Extra help and Support

Ithaca College provides a Counseling Center to support the academic success of students. The Counseling center provides cost-free services to help you manage personal challenges that threaten your well-being. The Health Center is also a resource on campus for students who experience a personal struggle.


Tentative schedule (may be subject to change--stay current on the course's Sakai site)


(by week)


Reading Assignment

Aug 29


What is biotechnology? Old and Modern techniques for enhancing Mother Nature.


What is Personalized genomics? A look at a 23andMe dataset.


 -Gonick & Wheelis. The cartoon guide to Genetics. 209 pp.

Sept 5


What is Science ? What are Faith and spirituality ? How do they approach Biotechnologies ?



Scientific breakthrough underlying Biotechnologies. I. Cells, Proteins and DNA.


-Silver. Challenging Nature. Prologue, Chaps 2,4,5.


-Takemura. Manga guide to Molecular Biology. Pp. 16-88.

Sept 12


Scientific breakthrough underlying Biotechnologies. II. Cell division and replication


Scientific breakthrough underlying Biotechnologies. III. Transcription, Translation and Regulation of Gene expression


 -Takemura. Manga guide to Molecular Biology. Pp. 92-174




Sept 19




Why are we so different? Mutation and Human Variation.


Why is there a phenotypic resemblance among siblings? Pedigrees.


Why are identical twins NOT identical? Environment and Epigenetics


EXAM 1 on Thursday 22d of September







-Ridley. Genome. Chap 3, 4, 5, 6, 9.


Sept 26


Guest lecturer on September 27th. Dr Maki Inada, Assistant Professor at IC. Genetic testing in the context of Cancer


Experiment in Molecular Biology. Part I.Introduction to mitochondrial DNA and overview of the procedure. Meet in the regular classroom.



-Ridley. Genome. Chap 17, 18.

Oct 3


(Meet in CNS 107)


Experiment in Molecular Biology. Part II. DNA extraction from cheek cells.


Experiment in Molecular Biology. Part III. DNA Amplification by PCR


-Angrist. Here is a Human Being. Chaps 1,2,3, 9

Oct 10


(Meet in CNS 107)


Experiment in Molecular Biology. Part IV. Visualization of DNA by Agarose Gel Electrophoresis


Experiment in Molecular Biology. Part V. DNA Purification and sample preparation for sequencing



-Ridley. Genome. Chap 13

Oct 17



Experiment in Molecular Biology. Part VI. Sequence editing, sequence comparison using genetic databases.


No class on Oct 20–Fall break







Oct 24





How are genetically modified organisms created? Recombinant DNA Technology and Transgenic techniques.



Where is our food coming from? Agricultural Biotechnology I






-Takemura. Manga guide to Molecular Biology. Pp. 176-209



-Silver. Challenging Nature. Chap 15 (267-277), Chap 16.





    Oct 31


Agricultural Biotechnology II



Will I be able to choose the phenotype of my children? Reproductive technologies, genetic testing, gene selection and eugenics.




-Ridley. Genome. Chap 11, 19, 21.

Nov 7


What is genomics? How are big genomes sequenced? What did scientists find in the human Genome sequence?



Personalized Genomics: meet Navigenics, 23andMe (again!) and deCODE Genetics.




-Ridley. Genome. Chap 8



-Angrist. Here is a Human Being. Chaps 4, 6, 8 and 10

     Nov 14



Guest lecturer. Dr Lindsey Morse, Genetic counselor in Binghamton.


Oral presentations by students on Nov 17. Groups1-3.


-Angrist. Here is a Human Being. Chaps 10 and 11


Nov 21


Is it OK to allow patents on Life and its products? The case of Myriad genetics.


Oral presentations by students on Nov 24th. Groups 4-6





Nov 28








Dec 5


Now What? The Future of Human kind in the face of cheap genomes, synthetic Biology, and biotechnologically-supported Human enhancement.


Oral presentations by students on Dec 8.

 Groups 7-9


-Ridley. Genome. Chap 22


-Angrist. Here is a Human Being. Chap 12, 13, 14.


-Silver. Challenging Nature. Chap 18.


Dec 12


No class on Dec 13th


Exam 2 on Thursday December 15th




    Dec 19







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Page maintained and updated by Nancy Pierce and Marina Caillaud
Last updated: 9/6/11