Last updated: Friday, September 02, 2011 01:05 AM
Biology W3034/W4034: Biotechnology

Course Description & Objectives

The W4034 course is obligatory for students in the Masters in Biotechnology Program and can also be taken by other graduate students with appropriate background.  W3034 is primarily for College, SEAS and General Studies undergraduate students.  The two courses are treated as one for lectures and recitations but are graded separately.

It is expected that students will have some background knowledge in Genetics, Molecular Biology and a variety of other topics generally covered in Introductory Biology courses.  One objective of the course is for students to understand thoroughly the basic molecular and genetic techniques and approaches that form the base for the huge variety of further developments and applications that fall under the umbrella of Biotechnology.  This foundation will be covered largely in the first half of the course and occupies almost the entire Dale & von Schantz text.  A second course objective is for students to be able to understand and evaluate sophisticated and current applications of Biotechnology.  This will be undertaken largely in the second half of the course and will involve reading in the original literature in addition to textbooks as source materials. The topics covered are necessarily subjectively chosen, as opposed to being comprehensive.

Many students in the past have found this course to be difficult.  There are some inherent reasons for this.  One is that to understand Biotechnology techniques sufficiently to put them into practice requires careful thought and a lot of attention to detail.  Most homework assignments  are therefore deliberately constructed to make students think carefully and beyond the material that is directly presented in lectures or texts.  Second, the course does cover a lot of ground.  Most students are familiar with some of the material, and this is assumed in setting the pace and content of the course. If your background is minimal it will be hard to keep up.  It will be very difficult to keep up if you do not come to class prepared, i.e., read the material BEFORE coming to class, including textbook selections, articles and reviews, and the PowerPoint slides and lecture notes, so that you can ask questions as the material is being presented. Third, the approach of deducing information from experimentation may be unfamiliar to some students.  The course aims to steer students towards thinking like researchers.  Researchers design experiments, evaluate results and draw conclusions. They must be aware of flaws and limitations in each of these processes; there is no answer to look up and facts are treated as working assumptions. In addition, researchers have to be familiar with a battery of techniques and decide when it would be useful to apply a particular technique to ask a specific question.  There is no simple correspondence between specific applications and techniques. Students may therefore initially feel that they are learning several methods without knowing their applications. Students who have experience in similar classes or who have undertaken practical research will adapt more easily to this way of thinking.  Given the above, students should expect to put a lot of work into this course and to use all available resources, including regular attendance at recitation sessions and use of extra information, such as Q&A sections on the Web.

Textbook Information

Two textbooks are recommended. The first text cited below (Dale & von Schantz) is fairly elementary but is clear and similar in organization to the order of lectures covering the early topics.  The second text (Strachan & Read) deals with basic molecular biology in less detail but has good coverage of disease gene cloning and some coverage of more sophisticated DNA-based techniques including Genomics.  It also has plenty of material we do not cover, but which is likely to be of interest to students taking this course.  Both texts should be useful and will be referenced in the lectures.

The first two texts are available for purchase at the CU Bookstore.

1.  From Genes to Genomes: Concepts & Applications of DNA technology (Second Edition). J.W. Dale & M. von Schantz  (2007). Wiley Press (ISBN 978-0-470-01734-0).

2.  Human Molecular Genetics 4. T. Strachan & A.P. Read (2011). Garland Science (ISBN 978-0-815-34149-9).

A variety of other texts include materials that overlap with the content of this course, including texts that were used in previous years (3 & 4 below). You may want to look at these in case you find them to be useful additions, but you are not required to do so.

3. Applied Molecular Genetics. (1998) R.L. Miesfeld. Wiley Press (ISBN 0-471-15676-0).or Newer edition

4. Molecular Biotechnology, 4th Ed. (2008) B.R. Glick & J.J. Pasternak. ASM Press (ISBN 1-55581-498-0 or 269-4).

5. Gene cloning and DNA analysis, 6th Ed. (2010) T.A. Brown. Blackwell Science(ISBN 978-1-4051-8173-0).

If you feel you only have a limited background in Genetics, Molecular Biology and laboratory techniques associated with molecular biology you are strongly encouraged to read Dale & von Schantz (#1), or perhaps Brown (#5) prior to starting the course because early lectures proceed quite fast.


The intention is to test understanding rather than memorization and to reward effort as much as reasonable. 

Homeworks will count for 40% of total points, a mid-term for 25% and a Final for 35%.