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The University of Southampton

NATS2002 Editing life: genetic engineering and synthetic biology

Module Overview

Genetic engineering has led to a ‘paradigm’ shift in the way we can produce organisms with tailored attributes, Stemming from progress in genetic engineering, synthetic biology is heralded as the next technological revolution. By drawing from biology, chemistry, engineering and computing, synthetic biology allows biological systems to be redesigned and new ‘life' to be designed and constructed. The technology promises dramatic environmental and medical benefits, but at the same time raises major ethical issues and ultimately challenges our definition of ‘life'.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • a sound and critical understanding of the molecular biology techniques used to achieve genetic modification
  • a sound understanding of the different aspects of chemistry that are involved in genetic modification and synthetic biology and how they are used
  • an understanding of the main current research trends in synthetic biology and how they are likely to develop over the next decade
  • a basic understanding of adventure and innovation in cross-disciplinary research
  • a broad and critical understanding of the expected technological applications that will stem from the development of synthetic biology
  • a critical appreciation of the ethical issues and likely societal impacts that are associated with the different aspects of genetic modification and synthetic biology
  • strategies for acquiring, collating, interpreting, evaluating and presenting complex technical information from cutting-edge research publications
  • critical analysis skills in the application of chemical sciences to synthetic biology.


The philosophy underlying this course is to empower students to take charge of their own learning in the area of synthetic biology. As a consequence the course will make extensive use of directed and peer-assisted self-learning methods. The module will be delivered in the context of 3 genome engineering research targets: • genome modification • assembly of synthetic genomes for minimal genome organisms • engineering of biochemical pathways for biotechnology applications The course will cover four broad areas: Genome editing, modification and synthesis techniques Topics include transformation, Zinc Finger Nucleases, TALENS, Nucleic acids and Genomes This includes: transcription and translation of DNA; genome architectures (bacterial chromosomes, plasmids); genome processes; basic principles of gene regulation in prokaryotes and eukaryotes; polymerase chain reaction; siRNA. Genetic circuits Topics include: logic elements from simple gene circuits; gene network energetics; predicting properties of genetic networks. Societal impacts of genetic engineering. Topics include: ecosystem implications of germ-line genetic modification; unconstrained release of GMOs; enhancing human, animal or plant attributes.

Learning and Teaching

Independent Study100
Total study time150



MethodPercentage contribution
Assessment 70%
Research proposal 30%
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