ABC: About Building Cells


About this course

As laymen, and as scientists, we have always pondered upon the questions, “What is life? Can we create life-like systems?”. Recent years have seen a tremendous interest from diverse scientific communities to build artificial systems, using basic molecular components, that are capable of mimicking vital characteristics of living systems. Such synthetic cells are having a huge impact on deepening our knowledge about cells as well as in developing real-life applications (from chemical nano-factories to drug delivery systems).

ABC will introduce you to this new and exciting realm of synthetic biology. It will give a different perspective on living systems from the context of bioengineering and stimulate you to think about what it would take to build a cell. This interdisciplinary course will cover a broad range of interconnected cellular modules, such as compartments, growth, division, motility, metabolism, and genome editing. Using state-of-the-art examples in science and technology, we will explore building artificial biosystems.

The course will begin with a series of interactive lectures, including guest lectures from experts in their fields. This will be followed by individual student presentations on concepts/ideas that inspired you during the lectures. Lastly, you will work in groups to design your very own research project on synthetic cells. A special focus will be put on effective scientific presentations and personal feedback will be given throughout the course.

This course can be taken in combination with ORC-50803 (Chemical Biology: Exploring Biology with Small Molecules).

Learning outcomes

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:

  • recognize the broad and interdisciplinary nature of synthetic biology;
  • interpret the prerequisites of life and the basic functional modules of living systems;
  • comprehend the fundamental aspects of key biomolecules/bio-assemblies (membranes, condensates, enzymes, cytoskeleton, genomes, etc.) that make up living cells;
  • create biology-inspired (semi-)synthetic systems relevant for curiosity-driven fundamental research or real-life applications;
  • incorporate interdisciplinary thinking when designing a research project on synthetic biology;
  • deliver a scientific presentation in an effective and engaging manner.

Teaching method and examination

  • written exam, contains open and/or multiple-choice questions (30%);

  • individual presentation (30%);

  • group activity (40%).

Each component needs a minimum mark of 5.5 to pass. Marks for components will remain valid for 3 years.

Link to more information

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