Decoupling design from construction in an undergraduate bioengineering lab course

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Joseph Shih, Drew Endy

Stanford University, United States

Exponentially decreasing costs in DNA synthesis will lead to increased outsourcing of DNA construction in the future, a situation comparable to the current state of oligonucleotide synthesis and DNA sequencing. As DNA construction is increasingly outsourced, the next generation of scientists and engineers that work with DNA should turn their focus from DNA construction to prototype specification and design and experimental testing of genetic parts and devices. However, there are currently few undergraduate laboratory courses which decouple DNA construction from the other tasks. We present a bioengineering course which outsources DNA synthesis, focusing on giving students experience in prototype specification and design and experimental testing of their own custom genetic parts and devices while simultaneously learning the basic laboratory skills required when working with DNA and living organisms. This course has produced its first successful student-designed genetic parts and devices, and student surveys indicate student improvement in skills taught by the course. Future versions of the course will allow students to work with a wider variety of organisms and will use feedback from student surveys to implement further improvements.