Biotechnology and Pop Culture: From Science Fiction To Reality

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This course is under review for 2021. Course registration will open to accepted students once courses are confirmed.

Course Description

Were you ever curious if Jurassic Park was possible from a biological perspective a la de-extinction? Or how scientists genetically engineered 'Spider-Man' goats for the production of silk? Or have you seen an apocalyptic movie where you said out loud, "There's no way they would survive such an infection!" but you never studied parasitology? This class looks to resolve such questions by discussing current methods in research and discovery used by biotechnological businesses and academic juggernauts to evaluate novel pathways for drugs and therapeutical development. How do pharmaceutical companies look for solutions to tough problems, and what are the FDA hurdles they have to jump through to do so? How does biotechnology change our understanding of humanism, and how can we avoid creating mistakes that might otherwise lead to devastating doomsday scenarios if left unchecked? This class will discuss how and why pop culture got it right or wrong down to the molecular level, genetically and biochemically, and how we can engineer such systems to advance scientific research. This class was designed for those who love weird fiction, and for those who wish to understand how such oddities could come about through modern science.

This course will specifically cover the following material:

-Learning how to 3D print your own amino acid (Final Project).
-Guest lecture from a leading senior biotechnology professor at Brown.
-Tour of related Brown's research facilities.
-Group presentation on a science fiction dissection of your choice (Mid Term Project).
-Writing music from genetics (No prior music knowledge necessary).

Major Topics Include:

Biotechnology and Federal Regulation
-What is "big pharma" and how are they regulated.
-How does scientific communication play into this overarching question of development?
-What is a patent portfolio/umbrella? What are patent trolls?
-How do you develop a device/drug; What part of the patient/hospital chain does it target?
-What are the major steps in clinical development?
-What are some important real life applications of biotechnology currently in place?

The Basics of Biochemistry and Genetics
-What are amino acids and nucleic acids? How do these make up proteins, DNA, and RNA?
-What is transcription and translation? What molecular mechanisms dictate both?
-Knowing the "aces" (Protease, Kinase, Polymerase, etc.)
-Understanding structural chemistry.
-How do we know a drug is bound?
-Evaluating mutations and disease.

Odd Science and Popular Culture
-Genetic Engineering: What is CRISPR-cas9 and what other forms of gene therapy are available?
-Parasitology: What would happen if all parasites instantly died? Can we use parasites symbiotically?
-Aging: What is cellular senescence? How might we beat cancer?
-Neuroscience and Drugs: What are the basics of brain biochemistry?
-Evolution: What is Epigenetics? Gene flow?
-In Vitro Modeling: What are the problems with non-animal models? How can we fix them?
-Bioinformatics: How can we use massive data banks to identify novel interactions?
-Polymers: How can we use non-protein based small molecules as drug delivery systems?
-Bioethics: What will the Olympics look like in 100 years? What is human identity?

This class is designed to provide a fun and engaging way to learn the basics of molecular biology, genetic engineering, drug design, bioethics, and biotechnology through their relation to cinema, television, and real world avenues. Students will be able to intelligibly discuss intro level modern medical issues, come up with prototypical designs to test and evaluate such problems, and be able to understand the results from their findings. This class should work as a perfect primer for anyone interested in medicine, bioengineering, biology, and molecular science.

Prerequisites: Proficient understanding of Biology and Chemistry is highly recommended but not required. While specific molecular details will be discussed, you are expected to understand the material enough to logically explain the applications and processes.

Algebra 1/2 recommended: Understanding of graphs and logic trees is a must.

Basic Computer Science is required, i.e. how to use presentation software and sufficiently parse internet services. Some understanding of programming may be helpful for advanced assignments.

Honors English or higher is necessary. Philosophy readings will require more patience than traditional novels.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEBI1004
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information

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Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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