Build-a-Genome Course Introduces Students to Synthetic Biology

Jef Boeke pic

Jef Boeke

Currently instructing students and directing curriculum at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, Johns Hopkins professor emeritus Jef Boeke served more than 27 years with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (JHUSOM). In 2007, Jef Boeke became a founding director of the JHUSOM Build-a-Genome course, simultaneously spearheading the Build-a-Genome Mentor program and also developing the Build-a-Genome Parts Library course.

Sponsored by the JHUSOM and three other Johns Hopkins departments, Build-a-Genome also draws upon support from other biotechnology research organizations and institutions of higher learning. The course introduces students to the nascent field of synthetic biology through intensive laboratory work, and also exposes them to larger societal issues associated with emerging technologies.

Offered each semester and during the summer, the Build-a-Genome course attracts undergraduates from a range of academic fields, including biology, biomedical engineering, chemical and bio-molecular engineering, computer science, and biophysics. Students begin in a “boot camp phase, where they learn the workflows of the course. Eventually granting students 24-hour access to the lab, instructors assign each of them a specific segment of the synthetic yeast genome. Working an average of 15 to 20 hours a week, students must completely synthesize their genome segments and deliver accurate DNA results by the end of the semester.

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