Bringing synthetic biology to the university curriculum
Our university does not offer any courses about synthetic biology in either its undergraduate or graduate curriculum. To fill this gap, last year we instituted IGEM 101: Introduction to Synthetic Biology as an elective non-credit course. We developed a semester-long curriculum that combines hands-on lab work with lectures on the theory behind common genetics methods as students work on a mini-project inspired by real iGEM projects. So far eleven students have graduated from our course, all of whom have since been accepted into research labs.
Teaching synthetic biology design to the greater Nashville area
After building up a reputation through our outreach and education activities, we were approached by the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach (CSO) to plan an educational program that integrates teaching and project-oriented lab work (as we had done for our IGEM 101 course) for groups of middle-school students from Metro Nashville Public Schools. Together with instructors from the CSO, we came up with ideas to create an entire unit about synthetic biology. Unlike many other educational programs, our goal with the CSO is to have students work as teams on real uncharted experiments, rather than simply having students go through rote instructions for pre-designed lab activities.
We are currently developing our plans for lessons and labs, with the goal of implementing them by the Spring academic semester. Not only will this unit have the potential to be continued in future years of this CSO program, but eventually we hope this type of integrative curriculum that we began with IGEM 101 and continued here will be adopted by other programs across the country.