Syllabus, Fall 2003
MWF 2:20-3:20
  OlinRice 270

Instructor: Professor Mary K. Montgomery
office x6425
lab x8174
Office hours :
M W R noon-1 pm, or by appointment

Required Texts :

(1) Beckwith, J. (2002) Making Genes, Making Waves: A Social Activist in Science. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.   ISBN 0-674-00928-2

 (2) Charles, D. (2001) Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food. Perseus Publishing: Cambridge, MA.   ISBN 0-7382-0773-X

 (3) Rifkin, J. (1998) The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World. Penguin Putnam: New York.   ISBN 0-87477-953-7

(4)  (2001) Cloning: Responsible Science or Technomadness? (M. Ruse & A. Sheppard, Editors)  Prometheus Books: New York.  ISBN 1-57392-836-4

COURSE DESCRIPTION: This course will discuss the development and application of biotechnologies, and the impact these technologies have on society.   The discussions will include genetic manipulation of organisms (ranging from agricultural plants and animals to gene therapy in humans), DNA fingerprinting and the polymerase chain reaction (with special attention to prenatal diagnosis and forensic applications), in vitro fertilization and pre-implantation diagnosis, and the human genome project.   Strong emphasis will be placed on societal and bioethical considerations.   This course fulfills 4 credits in the science distribution requirement and counts toward the biology minor, but not toward the major.   No prerequisites. (4 credits)

COURSE OBJECTIVES: Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to demonstrate the following competencies:
(1) enough understanding of basic genetic and molecular biology principles to formulate educated opinions about biotechnology-related issues;
(2) an understanding that science is a continual process of investigation and interpretation and that scientific knowledge progresses via the support and rejection of competing hypotheses;
(3) improved research skills and the ability to critically assess the content value of different types of information;
(4) enhanced critical inquiry skills through writing. Specifically, students should view writing as a tool to explore and express ideas, develop the ability to synthesize and critically evaluate information from multiple sources and viewpoints, and apply such information to the construction of an argument.  

Tentative Schedule

Week 1            

Wed 9/3            Introduction

F 9/5                The Case of myostatin and the Belgian Blue


Week 2

M 9/8               Lecture on Mitosis and Meiosis

W 9/10             Rifkin’s The Biotech Century: Discussion of chapters 1-4

F 9/12              Video: After Darwin: Genetics, Eugenics, and the Human Genome


Week 3

M 9/15             Rifkin’s The Biotech Century: Discussion of chapters 5-8

W 9/17             Video: After Darwin: Genetics, Eugenics, and the Human Genome (Part 2)

F 9/19               Beckwith’s Making Genes, Making Waves: Discussion of chapters 7-9


Week 4

M 9/22             Discussion of articles on eugenics, including P. Kitcher’s concept of laissez-faire eugenics, NYT article on elimination of Tays-Sachs disease among Ashkenazim

                        Response Paper 1 DUE

W 9/24             Lecture on Mendelian patterns of inheritance

F 9/26              Genetic screening and genetic privacy   Problem Set 1 DUE


Week 5

M 9/29             Karyotyping, amniocentesis, sex selection, aneuploidies

W 10/1             MiniExam 1;   Lecture 1 on DNA Recombinant Technology: PCR

F 10/3              IVF and pre-implantation diagnosis


Week 6

M 10/6             Forensics DNA technology

W 10/8             Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus

F 10/10            Forensics DNA technology: The Innocence Project


Week 7

M 10/13           ‘Race’-based medicine

W 10/15           Lecture 2 on DNA Recombinant Technology: DNA cloning and viral vectors

F 10/17            Gene therapy: The case of Jesse Gelsinger


Week 8

M 10/20           Gene therapy: The French X-SCID trials          

W 10/22           Charles’ Lords of the Harvest: Discussion of chapters 1-8     Response Paper 2 DUE

F 10/24            FALL BREAK/ NO CLASS


Week 9

M 10/27           Charles’ Lords of the Harvest: Discussion of chapters 9-13

W 10/29           Charles’ Lords of the Harvest: Discussion of chapters 14-19

F 10/31            Genetically modified crops: Bt corn and monarch butterflies


Week 10

M 11/3             Genetically modified crops: Golden rice and edible vaccines

W 11/5             Genetically modified crops: RoundUp Ready Soy, Supercrops or Superweeds?

F 11/7              Sustainable development, Integrated pest management Problem Set 2 DUE


Week 11

M 11/10           Genetically modified crops: Immune reactions and other potential health hazards

W 11/12           MiniExam 2; Preservation of genetic diversity and Socioeconomic impacts

F 11/14            Genetically modified animals: Silk in the milk?


Week 12

M 11/17           Cloning Dolly:  (Ruse & Sheppard, Section I)  Response Paper 3 DUE

W 11/19           Bioengineering: Animals and Plants (Ruse & Sheppard, Section II)

F 11/21            Human Cloning:The case for and against (Ruse & Sheppard, Sections IV and V)


Week 13

M 11/24           Human Cloning:Medical implications (Ruse & Sheppard, Section VII); Cloning Trevor (Atlantic Monthly)

W 11/26           The Interviews

F 11/28            THANKSGIVING/ NO CLASS


Week 14

M 12/1             Human Cloning:Religious perspectives (Ruse & Sheppard, Sections VIII and IX)

W 12/3             Human Cloning:Policy and Regulation (Ruse & Sheppard, Section X)

                        Policy Report DUE 12/4

F 12/5              Human embryonic stem cell research: ‘therapeutic’ cloning


Week 15

M 12/8             The Human Genome Project

W 12/10           The Human Genome Project

F 12/12            Edutainment Presentations


M 12/15           Book Report DUE





Response Papers:   You will be asked to write three short essays (600-800 words each) in response to assigned readings.  You are to present an informed opinion in these essays, relating issues with which our society is currently struggling to knowledge gained from the classroom, your readings, and discussions. Additional information on how to begin researching and writing these thesis-governed papers, as well as specific criteria for grading will be detailed in a separate handout. Plagiarism will be handled according to the Macalester policy on academic integrity in the student handbook, with which you need to be familiar (   You will share at least one of these papers with 3 other students in the class who will provide written feedback; you will then have the opportunity to revise your paper and resubmit for a re-grade.   (30% of total grade)

Book Review:   You will write a review of one of the four required texts for this course (the choice of text is yours) modeled after reviews published in the New York Times Book of Reviews and the Ruminator Review. This assignment is due at the end of the semester, but may be turned in earlier. (10% of total grade)

Letter to the Editor:   This letter will be written in response to a news article in, for example, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or the Star Tribune OR published article in a monthly or weekly journal such as Harper’s Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, the Nation, or the Economist.  You will find the article, which should cover some aspect of biotechnology, and draft a response (200 word maximum) that is then shared with the class.   Class members will provide feedback and you will turn in a final form of your letter.  Letters deemed of high quality will be encouraged to be submitted to the Editor of the newspaper or journal. This is a rotating assignment; Letters from different students will be due at various times throughout the semester.     (5% of total grade)

Policy Report: Working with one other student from this course alongside students enrolled in BIOL 190: Genetics, you will draft a policy report offering guidelines for regulation of a specific biotechnology (e.g. gene therapy, genetically modified crops, human embryonic stem cell research).   This report is expected to be a 12-15 page paper with 4 sections: a description of the technology, the history of its discovery and development, a discussion of societal and ethical concerns, and specific recommendations for regulating the technology.       (10% of total grade)

The Interview: You will be asked to contact a professional working in a biotechnology-related field and set up an interview to learn more about that particular profession (such as degree and/or experience requirements, job-related duties, incentives), the path this particular person took toward his/her career, motivation/desire to remain or move on from his/her position, and viewpoints on particular aspects of technology-related issues.  You may work in pairs on this project if you wish.   I will help you with contacting individuals for this assignment.   Possibilities include, but are not limited to, individuals working as genetic counselors, forensic DNA technologists, pro-GM farmers, organic farmers, patent lawyers, research university molecular geneticist, biotech researcher, pharmaceutical rep, Science museum displays coordinator.   Transcripts of your interview will be shared with the rest of the class. You will also be asked to write a short paper reflecting on your experience.     (15% of total grade)

Edutainment Project: This will be a creative project in which your group (3-4 students) will design and carry out a project that explores some biotechnology-related issue and that is accessible to the public.  Ideas for possible projects include, but are not limited to, informational posters that could be displayed at a local library, organic co-op, science museum, or zoo; a play, mock trial, or video that could be performed or shown at a local middle school or highschool.  We will work to bring these projects to fruition and to the public.     (10% of total grade)

In class performance: Your in class performance grade will be determined by your level of preparation for and participation in class discussions and activities; in-class assignments such as one-minute papers, bioinformatics computer exercises, and newsgroup presentations will not be graded, but you will lose credit if you do not complete them.   Furthermore, unexcused absences from class will negatively affect this aspect of your grade.     (10% of total grade)

Miniexams and Problem Sets: Two short exams and a couple of problem sets will be used to assess your level of scientific literacy.   You will be able to work in groups on the problem sets, which should also function to help you prepare for the miniexams.   The miniexams will primarily test vocabulary, concepts, and scientific reasoning skills.             (10% of total grade)



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