Genetic Engineering

When it comes to genetic engineering, there are two central questions: “What are the possibilities?” “What are the consequences?”

The biotech industry is booming. Genetic engineering will soon allow researchers to quickly curate the natural world, whether they are trying to swap one gene for another or completely cut out a portion of genetic material from a particular gene in order to create humans resistant to diseases like HIV. In this course, sample and extract live DNA, run a PCR amplification, and learn how to alter the proteins in a string of cells to make them glow, detecting gene expression in transgenic organisms like E. coli. Debate the ethics of genetic manipulation — with its goal to change organisms’ genetic makeup for the better, you must also examine the potential unintended consequences— looking at the work happening today and how that will be shaping the future. Explore applications of stem cell research, use of gene therapies, and the power of the genome-editing technology CRISPR. From eradicating disease and eliminating food shortages to biological warfare and genetically engineered “perfect” humans, we’ll explore how applications of genetic engineering and synthetic biology are rapidly changing the map of our collective political, ethical, and biological future.

Students are required to bring long pants and close-toed shoes in order to participate in the laboratory components of the course. All students will be required to bring a laptop.

Who Should Take This Course?

You’re both fascinated and terrified by the applications of stem cell research. You’ve followed CRISPR science with intense fascination and love to debate the endless possibilities — and as-yet-unknown consequences — of genetic modification, cloning, gene editing, and biological warfare. Gear up to get hands-on: this course is for students who want to gain hands-on lab experience, hone their techniques, and get expert career advice from industry researchers.

Advisors + Past Speakers

  • Andrew Hessel, CEO, Humane Genomics
  • Dr. Steve Long, Endowed Chair of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences, University of Illinois
  • Dr. Daniel G. Anderson, Associate Professor and Researcher, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT
  • Dr. John Grant, Director of Business Development, Intellia Therapeutics, Inc.
  • Dr. Janina Jeff, Senior Bioinformatics Scientist, Illumina
  • Dr. Robert Truog, Director of Harvard Center for Bioethics + Frances Glessner Lee Professor of Legal Medicine + Professor of Pediatric Anaesthesia
  • Dr. Dan Adams, Research Scientist, Amgen
  • Dr. Lisa Kanizay, Reproductive Biology Scientist, Bayer Crop Sciences

Plan your summer


Course Highlights

  • Molecular Genetic Lab Manipulations

    Use biotechnology equipment and isolate and analyze DNA samples and microarrays, prepare agarose gel trays for electrophoresis, and more.

  • Animal Models

    Investigate themes in genetic research such as gene isolation using one of the foundational animal models in genetic research, the roundworm (nematode). Practice manipulating organisms in a laboratory setting.

  • Latest Research + Ethics in Bioengineering

    Innovations in genetic engineering are far outpacing our ability to regulate and manage their implications. Debate the morality of emergent technologies like gene therapy and the possibility of a future with “designer babies.”

  • Biotech Site Visit

    Meet with research scientists, engineers, and innovators in their laboratories and see up close the newest technologies and creative problem solving being done.

The most important thing I learned is that science and its future isn't just about facts, it is also about ethics. We can learn all we want about the world and how it works, but it is useless if we don't know how to use the information properly. The biggest challenge in this course was opening up to many new and different conflicting ideas about the future of genetic engineering. I am glad I went through this challenge, because I have now considered so many more perspectives than I previously had. This course will make me think more not only about new scientific discoveries in genetic engineering, but what they entail for the future.

Advisors + Past Speakers

Andrew Hessel

CEO, Humane Genomics

Andrew Hessel is the CEO of Humane Genomics Inc., a seed-stage company developing virus-based therapies for cancer, starting with dogs. He is a co-founder of the Genome Project-write, the international scientific effort working to engineer large genomes, including the human genome. From 2012-2017 Andrew was the Distinguished Researcher at Autodesk Life Sciences. He has been Singularity University faculty since 2009. His goal is to help people better understand and use living systems to meet the needs of society.

Dr. Steve Long

Endowed Chair of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences, University of Illinois

Dr. Steve Long FRS holds the Stanley O. Ikenberry University Endowed Chair of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences, at the University of Illinois. He is also the Distinguished Professor of Crop Sciences at Lancaster University, UK and a visiting professor and fellow at Oxford University. His photosynthesis research made the front page of the New York Times and was one of the 12 Scientific Moments of 2016. He is an elected Fellow of the American Society of Plant Biology, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as, a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Dr. Daniel G. Anderson

Associate Professor and Researcher, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT

Professor Daniel G. Anderson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology at MIT and a leading researcher in the field of nanotherapeutics and biomaterials. His research has contributed to products that have been commercialized or are in clinical development, as well as to the foundation of companies in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and consumer products.

Dr. John Grant

Director of Business Development, Intellia Therapeutics, Inc.

Dr. John Grant is the Director of Business Development at Intellia Therapeutics, Inc., a leading genome editing company with a mission to develop curative gene techniques for severe and life-threatening diseases. Based in Cambridge, the company combines scientific expertise with clinical development experience and a leading intellectual property portfolio. Prior to joining Intellia, Grant enjoyed a productive career in pharmaceuticals and consulting after earning his PhD in molecular biology.

Dr. Janina Jeff

Senior Bioinformatics Scientist, Illumina

Dr. Janina M. Jeff is a Human Geneticist and the first African American to graduate with a PhD in Human Genetics from Vanderbilt University. She is currently a Senior Scientist at Illumina, a biotech company that creates genetic technology for companies such as and 23 & Me. She is an expert in statistical design and interpretation of large-scale genomic data as well as content design scientist for genotyping arrays. Dr. Jeff has taught a breadth of undergraduate and graduate courses in biology, genetics, and statistics. In addition to her professional and community work, Dr. Jeff was recently selected as one of three winners (of 18,000) from Spotify’s Sound-Up Bootcamp for her podcast, “In Those Genes”, which uses genetics to uncover the lost identities of African Americans.

Dr. Dan Adams

Research Scientist, Amgen

Dan is a research scientist at Amgen, one of the world’s leading biotechnology companies, working to develop pharmaceuticals to prevent and treat serious illness and disease. His work is focused on using emerging technologies like iPSC-derived tissues, organ-on-chip platforms, and human genetics. He discovered a new molecular mechanism of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease. Dan attributes his initial interest in science to his 10th-grade biology teacher who sparked a lifelong curiosity that continues to drive his work today.

Dr. Lisa Kanizay

Reproductive Biology Scientist, Bayer Crop Sciences

Dr. Lisa Kanizay is a Reproductive Biology Scientist at Bayer Crop Sciences working on improving traditional plant breeding and efficiency incorporating gene editing and transgenics into their breeding pipeline. Dr. Kanizay received her PhD in plant biology from the University of Georgia where she studied mechanisms of chromosome segregation in maize using a variety of fixed and live cell fluorescent imaging.