DEB 263 - Biotech Fundamentals and Application

DEB263 - Biotechnology Fundamentals and Application

Note: This foundational course must be taken before the Qualifying Exam and is only offered during Winter Quarter, so please plan accordingly. If DEB263 is not taken before the QE, completion of the designated emphasis will not be possible. Below is an excerpt of key information from a recent course syllabus.

Course Description

Students will be introduced to a range of biotechnology research areas with focus on the intersection of molecular biology and engineering in the development of biomanufacturing platforms for industrial enzymes, therapeutics, biofuels and other high value products.  Lecture and discussion topics will include related life science platform technologies, such as informatics, genome editing, nanotechnology, and synthetic biology.  Placing biotech innovations in a societal context, we will discuss the role of intellectual property, government policies and regulations, marketplace economics and ethical debates on the development and use of new life science technologies. The overarching theme of the course will be the role of biotechnology in meeting challenges related to human and animal health, agriculture, and environmental resource management.

The importance of team science and communication in driving biotech innovations will be central themes throughout the quarter.  Each student will be assigned to an interdisciplinary team and will work with the group to develop a Team Project.  Team assignments will be announced in class and a roster posted to the course Canvas site.  In addition to the final project, teams will partner during class discussions and for smaller graded activities related to interdisciplinary science communication.

Learning objectives:

  • Understand core concepts in biotechnology (molecular biology, recombinant DNA technology and bioprocess engineering).
  • Work with an interdisciplinary team to develop an innovative biotechnology Team Project.
  • Practice science communication across disciplines and to diverse, non-specialist audiences via multiple platforms (Team activities, social media, formal presentations).
  • Gain familiarity with key aspects of translational research and bioentrepreneurship.

Required Reading

Required readings will be drawn from the primary literature but may also be taken from recent government tech reports, industry publications and the popular press.  PDFs of required and/or suggested readings assignments will be uploaded to the corresponding lecture resource folder on Canvas by the day of the lecture. 

Course Format

DEB263 is a 2-unit lecture course with one ~2-hour lecture per week for ten weeks. During the second hour of lecture, we will usually set aside some time for discussions of the required reading and social media assignments. During the final ~2-3 weeks of instruction/finals week, we will have Team Project presentations during scheduled class time and possibly during the scheduled final exam time to accommodate the number of teams.  Final project slides and peer review due during finals week by the end of the scheduled final exam time.

Prerequisites: Biological Sciences 101, 102 and Microbiology 102 or consent of instructor. Must be a graduate student in good standing.

As with all campus courses, we expect students to abide by the UC Davis Code of Academic Conduct, which can be found at:

Major Assignments & Grading

Letter grades will be based on a Team Project (Jargon Worksheet 10 pts, Project Outline 50 pts + Presentation 100 pts + Peer Evaluations 15 pts = 175 pts), Policy Brief Summary (100 pts), and 3 Science Communication assignments (25 pts each = 75 pts), for a cumulative total of 350 pts. The highest scoring student’s accumulated points will set the grade scale at 100% (A+).  Traditional percent brackets for letters grades will then be applied. All graded assignments, including the Team Project slides and peer evaluations will be due on the dates indicated on the course schedule. All work, including late submissions, must be received no later than the day of the scheduled final.

Team Project (175 pts)

The Team Project will provide an opportunity to investigate, propose and analyze from a multidisciplinary perspective a biotechnological approach for production of a specific product(s) or application using information available in the literature, based on methods, techniques, approaches and concepts discussed in the class. Grades for the Team Project assignment will be determined through evaluation of the Jargon Worksheet (10 pts – group score), Project Outline (50 pts – group score), an oral Presentation (100 pts – group score) and Peer Evaluation sheets (15 pts – individual score: each group member must turn in their own score sheets for self-evaluation and evaluation of other team projects).

Teams of ~4-5 members each will be assigned so that there is a mix of 1) genetics/molecular biology, 2) biochemistry, chemistry or related fields, 3) microbiology or cell biology and 4) engineering, mathematics, computer science or other physical science related majors on each team. Teams will meet during class time to discuss their common interests, academic backgrounds and areas of strength, and, after a preliminary review of the literature, decide on a project topic, scope, and individual responsibilities. Items to consider for the Team Project are listed below, however, teams should also feel free to consult with instructors on possible variations.

Example Project Components - Potential Technical and Business Aspects Underpinning a Biotech Startup

  • Target product(s) (type, application, demand, current production methods, cost)
  • Host organism (bacterial, yeast, insect cell, mammalian, plant, animal)
  • Gene(s) Constructs (cloning strategy, codon optimization, fusion systems, promoter, terminator, signal sequence)
  • Expression system (type, vector, selection, screening)
  • Production methods (production process, bioreactor type and operating strategy, environmental conditions, optimization, downstream processing, purification, scale-up, product characterization)
  • Data platforms and analysis
  • Business issues and societal impacts (economics, regulatory process and considerations, environmental impact, societal impact, legal and ethical issues)

Team Project Outline

Each team should upload to Canvas one written ~2-3-page outline of their project presentation identifying the topic, each subtopic (and responsible group member) and list of at least 3 relevant references that the group members have read and discussed. Also upload pdf copies of the key references (at most 3) to Canvas, along with your project outline. Under each subtopic identify the concepts, issues or questions to be addressed in the presentation (also in outline form).

Team Project Presentations

Team presentations will be given to an audience of the class and instructors, and may include other interested faculty or university colleagues. Each team will have ~15-20 minutes (allotted presentation length will depend on total # project teams [TBD] and will include the Q&A). Each team member must present some part of the presentation. Teams may divide their presentation time in any way that makes sense to present the required material. To meet the time limit, we recommend creating no more than ~15 slides. The presentation should start with a two sentence or ~1 minute “elevator pitch” to engage the audience and give them an idea of what your project is about and why it is important. Questions will be reserved for the end of the talk. The presentation (quality of presentation, as well as the technical content) plus the response to questions will be evaluated. Plan to submit a pdf of the slide presentation to Canvas by 11:59pm on the day of your Team’s presentation.

Policy Brief Summary (100 pts)

Understanding how research can influence policy and vice-versa, especially in the area of emerging technologies, is critical for scientists and engineers working on translational research projects. A course lecture on science policy basics and regulatory regimes impacting biotech research will be given during the first half of the course. After this lecture, students will be asked to choose a topic related to the course lecture material and develop a policy brief summary. For breadth of exposure, the chosen policy brief topic should focus on a different area of biotechnology than the student’s Team Project.

Ideally, your policy brief summary could serve as the first step in developing a full policy brief aimed at explaining an area of biotech-related research to a non-specialist policy maker. Please include the following sections in a ~1 - 1.5page document:

  • Research Summary Paragraph – What was discovered? Place the discovery/new results in context - what is known at the moment and what are scientists still working to understand? Why are these research results important for policy makers to understand? How might these results influence or change current science-related policies and/or impact society?
  • 3 Key Take-Away Points for the Policy Maker
  • Supporting Infographic, Image, Table or Figure
  • ~3-5 Journal References

Science Communication (75 pts)

Students will be asked to develop a “research overview” infographic (25pts) and a ~3-5 slide presentation (50pts) that answers the following questions in a way that 6th grade students could understand regarding their research laboratory focus and/or dissertation project:

  • Who are you and why did you decide to pursue graduate training in your topic area? (Name, grad group, lab, personal motivation/inspiration.)
  • Why is your research important? (Define the problem and give a little background information.)
  • What are you trying to discover or understand? (Explain the research questions and approach.)
  • What have you or others in your lab/discipline found so far that improves our collective understanding of your research question(s)? (Show data or images that support ~2-3 main conclusions.)
  • What research questions will you or others in this field ask next? (When talking to kids or the public, emphasize the methodical, iterative nature of science, and the importance of peer review and scientific literature as a knowledge foundation, etc.)

Team members will share their infographics and slide sets with their team project group for feedback and discussion during class.